NEW YORK – When the Dow first crossed 14,000, investors were overjoyed. When it closed at an all-time high of 14,253.77 on Tuesday, it wasn't so much a time for celebration as it was for reflection.
It's been a long five and a half years.
The ups and downs of the market touched us all in some manner. Jobs were lost. Retirements were delayed. Even those who came out mostly unscathed were still reaching for Alka-Seltzer during the many turbulent days.
Through it all, the stock market has slowly climbed back. And many of us have been left with a much more pragmatic view of the economy.
To mark the new record, The Associated Press asked three people to reflect on the fluctuations in the Dow Jones industrial average and how it shaped their own experiences. Here are their stories:
FROM WALL STREET TO LIFE COACH
Vanessa Loder is the ultimate type-A person, the kind who's often attracted to Wall Street. A self-described perfectionist. An overachiever who graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from Columbia University while playing Division I varsity soccer.
"I thought it wasn't good enough to be smart or athletic, I needed to be both."
After college, there were jobs at Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan. By age 24, Loder was making $250,000 a year.
Loder then headed to Stanford Graduate School of Business, where she was co-president of the ski club. After graduating, she took a job with a San Francisco private equity firm.
It was the spring of 2007 and the stock market was on fire. Her hours were consumed with deal after deal.
The Dow just kept climbing. In April, it crossed 13,000. By July, it had passed 14,000.
One of the firm's partners came out of his office and announced the milestone. Many workers had their own investments.
"We were cheering. Everybody was in a good mood," Loder recalls. "And then within a few months, it all came to a halt."
Debt markets dried up. Few companies wanted to do mergers or acquisitions. Those that did couldn't get a loan to finance the deal.
"We were literally twiddling our thumbs in '08 and '09," Loder says.
Boredom set in, and Loder questioned why she was drawn to Wall Street in the first place.
I was totally unhappy and I couldn't understand why," she says. "I just felt lost. I felt like something was missing from my life."
So she quit.
Soul-searching took Loder about as far from finance as possible. She learned hypnosis and techniques to get subjects to conjure memories believed to be from past lives. She spent 10 days doing a silent meditation retreat.
"All this crazy stuff out there, it actually works," she says. "I was kind of shocked."
Today, at 34, Loder runs her own business helping women in finance and Silicon Valley who are unfulfilled by their careers. The company, Akoya Power, runs group coaching programs, corporate workshops and luxury retreats, which can cost up to $12,000 a person.
"If the Dow kept hitting a new high each month, I would have been so busy with deals that I would haven't had time or perspective," Loder says. "I'm so grateful that the economy slowed down the way it did. That triggered my boredom, which made me realize how unhappy I was."
THE CALM ADVISER
Derek Kennedy spent the recession repeating the same message: stay the course.
The Tennessee financial adviser didn't have clients wake him in the middle of the night worried about their retirement. Instead, he offered plenty of proactive messages telling them to stick to their investment plan.
He'd start each phone call with a joke to break the tension.
"Just checking in," he'd say. "Have you been glued to CNBC? Are you chewing ice cubes?"
The he'd follow up with a somewhat reassuring point: when designing a retirement plan, they had planned for this. Well, not this exact meltdown, but something similar. While stocks were plunging, other parts of the portfolio — most notably Treasury notes — were showing a nice return and helping to lessen the overall loss.
"Stay cool. Times of market volatility are times of opportunity for well-constructed, well diversified and properly allocated investment portfolios," he told clients in an email March 15, 2011.
Two year before that, he had a similar message: stay the course.
"There really is no reasonable alternative than to remain patient," he wrote in 2009. "It is often hard not to be seduced into playing musical chairs with Wall Street, out of a desire to take at least some kind of action. Just remember, people are losing their chairs every day in these volatile markets."
He also noted for younger clients that the low stock prices of 2008 and 2009 will be history's equivalent of a "blue light special at Kmart." So buy while you can at the discounted prices.
Today, his clients are mostly whole again, but that doesn't mean they are complacent.
"They feel like it could all change on a dime again," Kennedy says. "They feel like it's only one economic or political event from being 2008 all over again."
His message — as it's always been — is to stay the course.
HE ALMOST LOST IT ALL
Mike Hall was working as a technology manager at a utility company in 2006. He was 57, had enough savings and decided to retire early.
Instead of collecting a monthly pension check, he decided to take a lump sum payout. He liked the idea that if he died unexpectedly, the money would pass on to his wife or daughter. He invested the money in stocks because the market was booming.
The Dow kept climbing.
"I was thinking: Things are going well. I made all the right moves. I was very secure," Hall says.
That euphoria didn't last long. The market's ascent quickly turned into a tumultuous tumble. Suddenly the decision to retire early, paired with liquidating his pension, didn't seem the best thing to do.
"My first thought: I can't believe it. I worked 33 years, I retired and six months later, boom, there it goes," Hall says. "I was convinced I had made two very bad choices."
At the market's low point, Hall's nest egg had lost 40 percent of its value.
Luckily, Hall and his wife had other sources of income and didn't need their savings immediately. She ran her own small business. He had already taken an entry-level job with the Department of Motor Vehicles to keep busy and get out of their Nevada home.
He never thought about selling.
"That's locking in your losses," Hall says. "You need to step back from your emotions."
Hall knew the problem wasn't his portfolio, but deeper economic issues and — at some point — the economy would recover.
Today, his portfolio is back to where it was at retirement.
"This isn't rocket science. This is basic, basic long-term investing," Hall says. "It's pretty boring stuff, but it really does work."