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Dow at 15,000: What the stock market is telling us

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Richard Climie, a retired engineer in Phoenix, describes himself as a "recovering buy-and-hold addict." The buy-and-hold strategy worked well for stocks during the long bull markets of the 1980s and '90s. Investors could make money buying just about any stock.

But the bursting of the dot-com bubble in the early 2000s and especially the financial crisis near the end of the decade have caused many investors to reconsider their methods.

Mr. Climie closed all his "traditional" stock positions in early 2008 and is now actively trading options.

Options, which offer an investor the right to buy or sell a stock at a certain price, are easy to get in and out of and provide the flexibility to move from one market sector to another, says Climie, who is also vice president of the Phoenix chapter of the American Association of Individual Investors. The approach requires more sophistication than simply buying mutual funds – and can be risky – but that doesn't seem to bother today's investor.

"The only benefit of that whole [2007-09] period for investors is that it caused them all to take a closer look and get more involved in their finances," says Steve Quirk, senior vice president of TD Ameritrade's trader group, who is based in Chicago. "The retail client is far more savvy than they were in yesteryear."

One example is Ameritrade itself. Three years ago, some 9 percent of its retail investors' trades were derivatives, usually options. Now, derivatives make up almost 40 percent of their trades. "We have close to 80,000 people last year who traded their very first option with us," Mr. Quirk says.

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