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Fred Ptucha knows how his investment clients felt as they watched the stock market shed half its value in the past 17 months, including an 8 percent plunge last week.

?I?m investing in the same things my clients are,? said the 65-year-old Ptucha, a financial adviser in Santa Rosa with Financial West Group. ?My retirement has been put on hold a couple of years.?

For stockbrokers and investment advisers, there have been downturns and bear markets before, but not like this one.

?This is going to be one of the longest and worst environments that we?ve seen in decades,? said Sam Slayden, branch manager and vice president in Santa Rosa for Stifel, Nicholaus & Co. ?There?s just no quick fix.?

For many in the brokerage and investment services industry who for decades made a good living buying and selling stocks and financial products for clients, the downturn brings extra stress and the prospect, for at least the near term, of leaner paychecks and fewer jobs.

New or fledgling advisers are going to find it tough to make a living, said Douglas Jordan, a professor of finance at Sonoma State University. As in the days of Great Depression, fewer Americans are willing to invest in companies that on paper have lost so much value.

"People are pulling out of the stock market and that money?s not coming back soon,? Jordan said. Ironically, investors now have an opportunity to buy equities at historically low prices, he said, but making those purchases is ?hard to do right now, even for me.?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed last week at 6,626.94, down 25 percent since Jan. 1 and 53 percent since October 2007. The market hadn?t closed that low in 12 years.

The bad news continued Friday with the announcement that the nation?s unemployment rate last month reached 8.1 percent, the highest level since 1983. After dropping early in the day, the Dow showed a slight uptick at the closing bell.

?I?ve never been through anything remotely close to what we?re going through now,? said Steve Reuter, vice president and resident director in Santa Rosa for Merrill Lynch.

Reuter, who for three decades has provided weekday financial reports on KSRO radio in Santa Rosa, said some colleagues now ?rely on each other? more often and help each other brainstorm how best to address the challenges facing their customers.

?Everyday I see the concern that our advisers have for their clients in their faces,? he said.

The U.S. securities industry employed 816,000 people in 2006, including nearly 270,000 advisers, analysts, accountants and managers.

The workers include brokers and advisers who receive a commission when a client buys or sells a financial product.

Their source of income is significantly different than financial planners, who charge a fee for their advice but make no money on investment sales or purchases.

For Sonoma County, state employment figures show the number of workers in the finance and insurance fields, including banks and mortgage companies, dropped 8.5 percent to 5,400 in January from the year before.

Several major brokerage houses with offices in Sonoma County, including Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney, did not provide information on possible staff reductions.

The times are testing the mettle of adviser and investor.

?Ironically you sort of earn your keep as a financial adviser during these kinds of financial times,? said Robert Eyler, director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.

When the market is soaring, the work of advising clients and executing trades feels great, said Eyler, chairman of the university?s economics department. ?But right now the work is long, hard and it sucks.?

Similarly, Edward Jones financial adviser Tom McGinley of Santa Rosa said he can make a big difference for his clients, who focus on their recent losses and ?the bad news of the last 24-hour cycle.?

?If I can, as their adviser, extend their horizon past this downturn and help them to recognize the opportunity that lies within, then I?m doing a good service,? McGinley said.

No one is predicting a quick turnaround.

?What we are really facing is a complete lack of confidence,? said Slayden, a financial adviser for 27 years.

That dearth of confidence extends to the banking industry, to the government?s attempts to stop the economic bleeding and even to efforts to gauge a company?s value. In such an environment, Slayden said, a company?s prior earnings are ?ancient history.?

Even so, Sonoma State?s Eyler and others predict that over the long term advisers will enjoy new opportunities, especially in areas of more comprehensive financial planning, including estate planning.

Diahann Lassus(co-cq), chairwoman of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors based in Arlington Heights, Ill., said such planning goes beyond a list of potential investments to take into account contingencies in case a client faces the loss of a job or a steep drop in his or her home?s value. She said many people now realize too late that they lacked such plans.

?I think,? said Lassus, whose group includes 1,200 fee-for-service planners, ?what happens in this kind of environment is people reach a point where they say, ?I can?t do this. I need help.?

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.

com.