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Brokers Stressed, But Optimistic

April 17, 2000

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ Legg Mason broker Peter Muckerman tried to sound upbeat Monday as he soothed an investor unnerved by last week’s stock market plunge.

``The magnitude of the correction has been bigger than anybody expected,″ Muckerman told the client over the phone.

As in brokerage offices across the country, the mood was one of nervous anticipation Monday at the Legg Mason branch near Alexandria’s upscale Olde Town neighborhood.

Brokers here told clients to remain calm even as they tapped their pencils nervously on their desks.

Muckerman fiddled with a stack of ``sell″ orders as he tried to gauge the direction the markets would take early Monday.

All morning the phone lines were busy with investors calling, looking for advice on what to do with their once high-flying stocks.

``It’s unpleasant to go through this,″ said Shawn McLaughlin, head of the branch office. ``The fear is: Could it get worse?″

That fear was clearly on the minds of clients. Brokers told customers to ``be patient″ and ``remain calm″ despite the market plunge on Friday, when the Dow Jones industrial average and the Nasdaq composite index suffered their biggest one-day point drops.

There was a sigh of relief as the Nasdaq started up.

``It’s coming back? Thank God,″ Muckerman said to a colleague

Then, just as quickly, he got the news that Nasdaq was headed back down.

``We’re going to be all over the place,″ he said.

That they were, with the Dow Jones industrial average and the Nasdaq fluctuating throughout the day before finishing on a positive note, both up more than 200 points for the session.

The brokers’ conversations with clients showed that, in addition to providing investment advice and executing trades, they provide a certain amount of mental health counseling to concerned customers.

``We’ve got time to wait and see whether the market’s going to go back up,″ broker Alan Norris told a client by telephone.

Norris said his clients’ are long-term investors with holdings primarily in mutual funds, so they were not as jittery. Norris spent the weekend looking for funds with consistent, albeit smaller, earnings.

``The people I deal with are not the ones who are panicking, like the day traders,″ he said. ``I try to keep a longer perspective.″

Victor Kane, another broker, said his clients are long-term investors with portfolios from $20,000 to well over six figures. Even for long-term investors, Friday’s decline was alarming, he said.

``Friday was difficult for some people to grasp,″ he said.


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