U.S. investor optimism declined in September, as the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index plunged to -45 from +33 in May after +42 in February. The index is now back at the financial crisis levels of late 2008.

The Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index is a broad measure of investor perceptions that tends to be a precursor of future economic activity and is consistent with a future decline in the overall U.S. economy. It reached its record low of -64 in February 2009, just before the equity markets reached bottom in March 2009. The Index peaked at +178 in January 2000, just before the dot-com bubble burst.

Two in three investors (65 percent) say they feel little or no control in their efforts to build and maintain their retirement savings in the current environment while 22 percent say they have quite a lot of control and only 12 percent say they have a great deal of control. Forty-four percent say their control has decreased over the past six months.

Unemployment and a weak economy are most commonly cited as being a major factor in causing them to feel a loss of control over their investments, followed by extreme volatility on Wall Street. About three-quarters point to political factors including the “confrontational political stalemate in the nation’s capital” and “a lack of national leadership.” Fewer say Federal Reserve policies and the financial crisis in Europe made them feel a loss of control.

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