"The cash represents sideline assets that are waiting for better conditions to go back into stocks," said Leuthold senior analyst Eric Bjorgen, calling the money "quite a bit of fuel for the boiler."
But the ranks of small investors who are eyeing a quick return to the stock market may have dwindled in the last year after many bought at what looked like a good time, only to see stocks skid further.
"We saw a lot of people look for a bottom six months ago, and today they've come to the conclusion that we don't know where the bottom is, and so they're either staying out altogether" or have decided to regularly invest a modest amount periodically, said Tim Hanson, a senior analyst at financial website the Motley Fool.
The bear market, however, hasn't dimmed Preefer's view of the potential gains to be had in a recovery. As stocks continued to slide, the 65-year-old Philadelphia-area resident prepared a list of about 40 stocks that he hopes to buy when the coast is clear.
He tiptoed back in late last month with small purchases of a few stocks but is holding off for now. Nonetheless, he is determined to buy once he believes that the worst is over.
"I don't want to be the first guy in at the bottom," Preefer said. "I want to be the third or fourth guy in at the bottom."