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After 10 years, is bull ride over'

Fragmented market makes it harder to tell

NEW YORK — The up-and-down stock market has taken Howard Okoomian's portfolio for a ride this year. It's down more than 8 percent after climbing over 30 percent every year for most of the past decade.

It's been wild, said Okoomian, a 76-year-old retired physicist from Wayland, Mass.

The recent unpredictability in the market has left investors and analysts wondering whether this month marks the 10th anniversary of the extraordinary bull market — or its end.

The Dow Jones industrial average is about 13 percent off its high for the year. Broader indicators are also lower: The Nasdaq composite index is down about 34 percent, and the Standard & Poor's 500 is off 10 percent.

This week's trading was especially volatile, with the Dow dropping nearly 380 points Thursday and the Nasdaq closing at its lowest level this year. The market recouped some losses Friday, with the Nasdaq recording its third-biggest point gain ever, but all three market benchmarks finished the week in negative territory.

The pain hasn't been spread evenly. Technology stocks are trading at some of their lowest levels in years, while utilities are having one of their best runs in a long time.

It used to be we could talk about bull and bear because everyone knew what we were talking about, said Charles Calomiris, a professor at Columbia Business School. Now, it's ?Do we mean the S&P or the Dow, or are we talking about high-tech stocks?- Indeed, there seem to be as many different opinions as analysts.

I think we've been in a bear market since April 1998, said Ricky Harrington, an analyst for Wachovia Securities. He contends most stocks have been down for two years now, but the decline has been masked by pricey tech stocks, which until recently kept the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq high.

Investors disagree whether the market is bullish or bearish, but few seem to be terribly worried.

Is the bull over? Yes, said Richard Zimmelman, 35, whose portfolio is down 40 percent this year. Still, the Miami Beach health department manager has no plans to sell off his hard-hit technology stocks: Our economy is very safe. I feel very secure with my decision.

Other investors also seem focused on the big picture rather the market's recent downturn.

It's a healthy correction, said Jim Steigler, a 50-year-old office manager in Seattle whose investments are down 30 percent this year. It's one of those things you have to look at in the long haul.

Gary Farmer, 61, of Dallas has sold the majority of his mostly tech portfolio, but his overall investments remain down for the year.

Am I worried? Oh, somewhat, he said, adding that he is still looking to buy. We're coming up on the best market time of the year.

Okoomian cashed out about one-third of his portfolio when the market began its downturn early this year.

He is still buying stocks, though picking winners isn't easy. The Lucent stock he recently bought at $31.50 per share was trading at around $23 on Friday. But he is grateful for the gains he has reaped.

I'm a lot more secure now financially than when I first retired, he said. It turns out I've made more money in the last 10 years than in the 35 years of my career.