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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bull Market Attracts Nationwide Interest




NEW YORK -- Claaang! A big brass bell signals the start of trading on the New York Stock Exchange. In the cramped tourist gallery, Linda and Tony Mallia and two excited grandsons are watching.


The longest bull market in history is mesmerizing Americans. Following the market and trading its stocks are national pastimes.


Twelve TV trucks wait daily outside the imposing marble building; more than 20 arrive when the news is really big. Visiting the NYSE was easy a few years ago. Now, tourists stand in lines that snake around the block.


First in line on a recent day were the Mallias, New Yorkers clutching the portfolio list of the grandsons who wait with them. They file into the gallery overlooking the trading floor. "It's really wild-looking,'' says Mrs. Mallia. Later, they wait three-deep at the gift counter to buy souvenir pens.


Stocks attract more than America's tourists. Investors check and recheck their numbers, following every winner and loser. Some carry pagers that scroll the stock ticker. Others quit their jobs to hunker over computers and trade all day.


With the rise of do-it-yourself retirement plans, Americans from janitors to CEOs control their financial futures. And with four years of double-digit returns, they're putting their money in stocks. About 160 billion shares changed hands in 1997, up 27 percent from the previous year, on the NYSE, its main competitor Nasdaq, the smaller American Stock Exchange and five tiny regional exchanges.


The bull market that preceded the 1929 crash also attracted many Americans. Books on investing and betting on stocks grew popular, says John Steele Gordon, historian and author of an upcoming book, "The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power."


Still, at no other time has the market touched as many Americans as today. The poorest 40 percent of U.S. households now invests an average of $1,600 in stocks, up from $300 (in today's dollars) in 1962. Children are investing, too: Stein Roe's $1 billion Young Investor Fund has ballooned to 190,000 shareholders from 4,000 since it was created five years ago.


No matter that the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans still dominate, owning 82 percent of the value of all stocks. The stampeding market has made it possible for all to dream.


Online brokerages, trying to wrest control from Wall Street's elite, feed investor hopes with catchy ads.


A Discover Brokerage television ad, now nominated for an Emmy award, features a tow-truck driver boasting of his online-trading prowess. The punch line? He just bought an island.


"Some advertisements more closely resemble commercials for the lottery than anything else,'' scolds Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt. "We ... should not get manic about the mania.''


Yet new millionaires do fuel the excitement. There are paper millionaires, those 20-something Internet upstarts who sell their companies' stock. And there are the investor millionaires, who caught Amazon.com's meteoric run-up to $221.25 in April, then got out before it halved.


But in order to win, investors need to learn. And nowadays, they're hungry for market lore.


More than 108 new business and finance magazines - nearly triple those of the early '90s - are now published.


Nearly 7,500 web sites are geared to investing. Amateur investment clubs abound, doubling to 37,000 since 1995.


Zach Mader, a 20-year-old who studies the business of farming at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, believes there's money to be made in today's market, especially if you hold on.


Why, then, does he trade three, four, five times a week and follow 60 or 70 stocks each day? "For the thrill,'' concedes Mader, who says his dad, a farmer, at first tried to discourage him from investing. "It's kind of a gamble.''


Mader is keeping his head, not letting investing eclipse his studies. But others aren't. Last winter, National Discount Brokers, of New York, linked its web site to netaddiction.com, a group that helps trading addicts.


In New York, uptown from the stock exchange, is Tradescape.com, an office strewn with soda cans, pizza boxes and coffee cups. There, day-traders, some of the market's most hard-core thrill-seekers, sit before computers.


The 6 million investors who trade online in their spare time far outnumber the estimated 5,000 day-traders nationwide. But both groups represent the extremes of market frenzy, propelling its success - and notoriety.


Such day-traders are indelibly linked to Mark Barton, the day-trader with reported losses who killed 12 people in Atlanta in July, including nine at two trading firms.