Pradeep Kumar, owner of a fast-expanding manufacturer of water pumps and parts for electric fans, says he finds stocks confusing and prefers investing in real estate and plowing money back into his business.
"I will not venture into something I don't understand," says Kumar, 41, a father of two from Varanasi in northern India.
What people do understand are bonds — boring, seemingly safe and, in terms of interest payments, unrewarding. In the five years after the crisis struck, investors in the six biggest developed countries poured $2 trillion into bond mutual funds, an increase of 60 percent. During that time, interest payments fell by half.
Investors have barely been compensated for inflation, if at all.
Consider a favorite German investment: funds run by insurers that hold mostly government bonds. Half the payments investors receive are tax free if they hold onto the funds long enough. Even with that tax savings, though, the investor returns can be dreadfully low. For new policies, the guaranteed interest rate is currently 1.75 percent a year, roughly the rate of inflation.
In recent months, Americans have shown more courage, inching back into stock mutual funds. But they've bought one week, only to sell the next, and they appear almost as wary of the market as they were during the crisis.
In April, one month after the Dow recovered the last of its losses from the crisis and reached a record high, 75 percent of Americans in an AP-GfK poll described the stock market as "risky." That was only slightly better than the 78 percent who felt that way in a CBS News/New York Times poll in January 2009 when the market was plunging.
Jerry and Madeleine Bosco have been forced to switch to a strange, new role for Americans: from big spenders, with credit cards in hand, to penny pinchers.