Confirmation Bias: Retail Confidence Seems To Be Trickling Back

After months of watching clients and prospects remain profoundly reluctant to engage with the stock market, advisors may finally be getting some hopeful signs that risk appetites are back.


According to consulting firm AlixPartners, barely 13% of the U.S. population has ramped up its investment activity since May 2010. This confirms numbers we're reporting elsewhere on the site.


The question is what exactly is going on inside this stat. Either Americans were already fully invested at the time -- a year after the market turned around -- or progress over the last year in rebuilding retail confidence has been extremely slow.


Given the constant flow of surveys indicating just how much fear is still out there, I suggest the latter.


Even among those who are investing more aggressively, opinions as to where to allocate that money are extremely fragmented. Only 21% of those who are moving off the sidelines say they're positive on U.S. securities, while only 17% are enthusiastic about the BRIC emerging markets -- not bad numbers in themselves, but nowhere near a retail landslide in either category.


And in any event, heightened risk tolerance and professional advice seem to go together. Only 23% of the population that is investing more is going the self-directed route, AlixPartners says. Everyone else is working with an advisor.


Advisors here have an opportunity to prove their value as a way to managing the risk that retail investors still clearly fear. Think "risk-adjusted" returns in communications. Think beta. And if your Monte Carlo numbers don't reflect the terrible 2008-9 downswing in the broad market, why not?


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