Most retail investors remain confident in the long-term strength of the economy despite two years of rollercoaster volatility and heavy losses, according to a new Center for Audit Quality survey of 1,001 investors.

The fourth annual survey found that 84% of investors were confident in the market in 2007, before the crash. However, while confidence fell “precipitously” to 70% in 2008, investors have stuck at that level since then: 2009 saw an uptick to 73% and while this year’s 68% is a drop, it’s not a very big one.

Wealthy investors, those with $100,000 or more to invest, are even more chipper about growth opportunities and 74% say they’re confident in the market.

Interestingly, reasons for investors’ confidence have shifted slightly from last year to now. In 2009, 40% of investors were heartened by economic data and stories they’d read, while 31% put their faith in the government’s recovery plan. This year, economic reports and Washington’s plans both dropped 9% to 31% and 22%, respectively; investors are picking up their good vibes from other places. It didn’t show up last year, but 15% of investors are now sure the recession is at least ending, if not over, and 15% of investors cite their own impression of market strength (up 3% since 2009), rather than relying on experts’ prognostications. That said, many investors still back the information they get from advisors and journalists. Some 86% of investors say financial advisors’ advice is at least somewhat useful and 81% of investors say the same about the press.

“They make investment decisions based on what they read in the news,” says Cindy Fornelli, executive director of CAQ in Washington, D.C. “They’re a little more wary, but they’re more trusting of themselves.”

The bullishness some investors express is tempered by those still squeamish about market volatility, though. When asked about the biggest threat to market stability, 27% said either government spending or interference, and 23% of respondents fear the recession is still in full swing. Weak government leadership (15%), market volatility (10%) and a weak job market (6%) also remain bear traps.

Fornelli notes that the proportion of investors still backing the government and those who think politicians are getting too involved is more or less equal. “It’s split across party lines,” which indicates that media speculation that investors are angry with incumbents in general may be false. What does seem to be universal, though, is investors’ weariness from waiting out the recovery. “It’s been a long cycle, a long recovery,” Fornelli says. “And we’re still not there yet.”


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