The percentage of investors feeling down about the stock market has reached levels last seen during the Great Recession, according to a weekly survey from the American Association of Retail Investors. This negative feeling could mean that there is an opportunity nearby. Just over three-fifths, or 60.87% of nearly 300 investors surveyed, reported feeling “down,” or that prices will fall, around the market in the seven-day period ending September 22. It is the fifth time the percentage has shown that bearish respondents have broken the 60% threshold since data collection began in 1987. The last time was in October 2008 and March 2009, as the US dealt with the housing market crash and its effects on the economy. Prior to that, bearish investors had hit this level at two points in 1990. In those scenarios, strong returns for the S&P 500 followed a year later. A ray of hope – for patients the survey tracks what is considered an opposite indicator. A large number of bearish investors, for example, means that many have already sold. This may indicate to market watchers that stocks could bounce back with little potential for further selling as has historically occurred during periods of high bear shares. The latest survey period captivated a difficult week for markets, as volatile investors pushed major indices lower and brought the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite into their worst week since June. “This doesn’t necessarily mean stocks are going to bottom out today and go up,” said Ryan Dettrick, senior market analyst at Carson Group. “But we take comfort in saying that a year from now stocks are likely to be a good deal higher and this period will be an opportunity for savvy investors.” Market watchers are sure to say that investors should remember that this is only one part of the data. Willie Delwich, investment strategist at All Star Charts, said the moment is unique because he hasn’t seen any connection between sentiment and action — a connection he said has dissipated since the pandemic began. “People say one thing and do another because of the conditions in this environment,” Delwich said. “These contrasting signals work best when you have both lined up at the same time.” Exposure to stocks remains high, Delwich said this period is unique because bears usually look elsewhere to invest, but alternatives such as bonds also feel unattractive. He said investors currently have higher levels of exposure to stocks than they did in previous periods when that sentiment led to a rebound. “It makes it seem less extreme and the bad mood that investors may be experiencing right now,” he said. The percentage of investors who feel down in this seven-day period is about double the percentage in the average week, with about 30% of those surveyed reporting that they think prices will fall. About 18% of respondents said they feel optimistic, while 21% said they feel neutral. The share of rookie investors ranks among the lowest 20 weeks in the survey’s history, according to the AAII. Investors Intelligence’s latest survey of financial newsletter editors put the percentage of bulls at 30%, down from 32.4% last week. In mid-June, when the S&P 500 hit the bottom of its bear market, the number of bulls was only 26.5%. Readings of less than 30% indicate “high cash positions and therefore reduce purchase risk for opponents,” according to the investment service. And Investors Intelligence found that the number of bears rose to 31.4% from 28.2% last week. – CNBC’s Scott Schneper contributed to this report.