Few people like to be the first to arrive to a party. The same might be said for investors.
According to a recent report from Lipper, which tracks mutual fund data, investors yanked $6.4 billion out of U.S. large-cap equity funds in February. Interestingly, the last time investors added money to the category was back in June 2008--just as stocks officially dropped into bear-market territory (defined as a loss of 20% or more in a major index, such as the Dow Jones industrial average).
Granted, some investors may have to sell stocks in order to free up cash to make ends meet. (Read these stories of people trying to get by after being laid off from their jobs.) Other investors may contribute less to their 401(k)s, IRAs or brokerage accounts in order to build up cash savings, a prudent move in today's economy.
But for everyone else, the stampede out of stocks may be less rational, more emotional. No one wants to stand on the dance floor alone, before the other guests arrive. Similarly, no one feels like buying stocks when everyone else is flocking to cash and bonds. That's not to say stocks are the best investment for everyone. Read this story, "Is it all over for stocks?" for a smart take by Pat Regnier on that subject. But when stocks do make sense for you, I'll tell you this: It's much better to arrive early and be there for when the party gets rocking, than to risk missing most of the fun.