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Do You Trust Wall Street?

By Morgan Housel - Apr 23, 2013 at 11:05AM

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Liz Ann Sonders on the economy.

"Traders and salesmen would boast about 'ripping the face off' their clients -- structuring and selling complicated deals that clients did not understand but that generated huge profits for the bank that was brokering the trade."
--From Simon Johnson and James Kwak's 13 Bankers

Wall Street has always been known as a place to make money -- as an employee. Whether Wall Street's customers do well is another story. And many -- most, in fact -- do not.

More than four years after the financial crisis, do you trust Wall Street? I asked Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, what she and her clients thought. She brought up an interesting point related to returns of the S&P 500 (^GSPC 1.00%)Have a look (transcript follows):

Sonders: The retail investing public is definitely much less trusting of Wall Street, and of course it depends on how one defines Wall Street, but if you think of it in its most generic sense, I think the typical individual investor feels like if they're playing the game, it's a less level playing field than has been in the past.

And you get a different answer from any investor that might feel some of that angst. We hear from plenty of people, that they just look at trading activity. They look at things like the Flash Crash and the scrutiny on and criticism of high-frequency trading and the fact that, particularly during more volatile periods in the last couple of years, they have been such dominant players and there's not a lot of transparency there. So there's a lot of resentment and anger directed that way.

I think there's a lot of concern still about the whole notion of "too big to fail," so I really think you can point in a lot of directions, but I think generally individual investors feel like it's not as fair a game as it has been in the past. That's lessened a little bit for obvious reasons, the market just having done well, back to all-time highs.

Now for some investors that sort of bailed and panicked out in 2008 and 2009 that haven't gotten back in, there's still a lot of angst being felt by those investors. They truly feel like the game is just rigged because they've missed out on this and feel like the rally has not been supported by fundamentals. But certainly for those investors who have ridden this storm, many of them are feeling a bit better now because they've recouped all of their losses since the crisis.


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