Mainers are pulling millions of dollars out of the stock market and parking their money in low-risk certificates of deposit offered by banks and credit unions, lenders say.

Many of these lenders are taking advantage of the market turmoil by advertising special interest rates to attract deposits. Others are simply promoting an image as a safe and secure financial haven in a period of great uncertainty.

In recent weeks, many financial advisers have advised against shifting capital to cash in a bear market, but recent interviews with bankers, analysts and customers confirm that the move is taking place in Maine. One South Portland lender said the reaction seems to be accompanied by a personal sense that any government bailout plan will do little to help small investors.

“The bottom line is, people are shell-shocked,” said Chris Daudelin, chief executive officer at Town & Country Federal Credit Union. “They’re saying, ‘I better do something with my money on my own, before it turns to zero.'”

Daudelin and other local lenders say the trend could have a positive effect – longer term – on Maine’s economy. The increased liquidity could make more money available for business and personal loans, offsetting any broader credit squeeze.

Maine investors joined millions of Americans during the bull market in enjoying strong growth in stocks and other uninsured financial instruments. But in recent months, as stock indexes slid, they began looking for less-risky alternatives. That movement has accelerated in recent weeks, with the global financial meltdown.

“I think what we’re seeing is a flight to safety,” said Gerard Cassidy, managing director of equity research at RBC Capital Markets in Portland. “People are willing to take lower returns, knowing they can get their money when they need it.”

The experience at Town & Country, which has more than 20,000 customers and four offices in Greater Portland, is a case in point. Managers and front-line workers are reporting a continuing dialogue with customers about stocks and uninsured money market investments, and the desire to transfer funds into CDs and other insured instruments.

“Day in and day out, this is what people are talking about, ” Daudelin said.

Richard Salisbury took the plunge this week.

Salisbury, who is 50, had money in an IRA mutual fund annuity. As he watched his retirement savings drop in value, Salisbury also became annoyed by the federal government’s response to the banking crisis. He blames politicians for creating the loose regulatory environment that led to so many bad loans. His anger grew in recent days over plans to use taxpayer money to rescue large lenders.

“It’s criminal,” he said. “I consider it more of a stick up than a bailout.”

Salisbury reluctantly decided it made more sense to cut his losses and reinvest his IRA money with a local lender. He chose Town & Country, opening a three-month CD with an annual percentage rate of 2.72 percent. When it matures, he’ll decide what to do next.

“I feel a little bit relieved,” he said, “even though I’m not keeping up with inflation.”

Salisbury made his move ahead of an advertising campaign being prepared by Town & Country that will be aimed at attracting similar depositors.

TD Banknorth last week begun an aggressive campaign online, on the radio and in print ads from Maine to Florida. It includes the banner: “Looking for a safe place to put your money?” The ad also promotes an 11-month CD that has an annual percentage rate of 3.25 percent. The copy stresses that the bank steered clear of subprime mortgages and is on solid financial footing.

It’s too early to tally the impact of the advertising, according to Tom Dyck, executive vice president for retail products. But recently, Dyck said, TD Banknorth has seen customers shift away from money market accounts to one-year CDs, with typical balances of $10,000.

“They’re saying, ‘I’m going to park my money there and not worry about what’s going on now,’ ” Dyck said.

Bath Savings Institution is running an image ad touting “safety, security, stability.” The ad outlines the bank’s financial strength and lack of exposure to subprime loans. One measure of customer response: Deposits were up between $3 million and $5 million in September.

“That’s a very large increase for us,” said Glenn Hutchinson, the bank’s president and chief executive officer.

A branch relocation in Scarborough, coupled with ads promoting a new CD rate, led to $1 million in new deposits in one week at Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution, according to Kevin Savage, the chief executive officer.

“Some of that seems to be coming from other investments,” Savage said.

As local banks take in all this money, they find themselves in a better position to extend credit in the future. It’s a trend, Cassidy said, that’s reversing the flow of money that had moved from banks to other capital markets during the boom, in search of higher returns on investment.

“Business is coming back to the banking industry,” he said.

Higher liquidity – having cash on hand to lend – could help local banks make more loans when the economy improves. Community banks and credit unions tend to focus on mortgages and home equity loans, auto loans and small business lending, the lifeblood of main street.

“I think there are going to be big opportunities for us,” Daudelin said.

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