The planner predicted that if a lack of progress on the debt ceiling spooks the market, he's not the only one who will be hearing from his clients.

"If the market drops 800 or 1,000 points, they will let their representatives know."

Tim Maurer, a planner with Financial Consulate in Hunt Valley, said his clients are concerned but also are feeling something else.

"There is uncertainty fatigue," Maurer said. That comes from major market swings in the past 13 years stemming from the bursting of the Internet bubble, the housing market bust, the 2008 credit crisis and all the political drama in Washington.

Maurer said his clients' portfolios already had a conservative bent, but he made adjustments in the past two months that build on that, such as increasing cash reserves, investing in funds with bonds of shorter maturities and diversifying outside the United States.

Richard Cripps, chief investment strategist with EquityCompass Strategies in Baltimore, said he's not changing his strategy, but money flowing in to be invested in the market is off by about 60 percent this month. Some clients are holding onto cash.

"They are on the sidelines" and waiting to jump into the market once a resolution is reached, he said. In past financial standoffs in Washington, stocks fell as negotiations stalled, only to recover lost ground and rally even higher within a week of a final agreement, he said.

Other portfolio managers are making adjustments — or waiting to do so based on what happens in Washington.

Fidelity Investments, for instance, said in a statement that it expects Congress to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default, and the company's money market funds continue to have significant holdings in U.S. Treasuries. Nevertheless to protect investors, Fidelity increased the amount of cash in its money market funds and sold government securities that mature later this month to "avoid even the remote possibility of minor delays in payment" if the debt ceiling isn't raised.

Fidelity took similar steps during the 2011 debt ceiling stalemate.

Steve Huber, manager of the T. Rowe Price Strategic Income Fund in Baltimore, said he's making sure that he has enough cash on hand to take advantage of the high volatility that will come if default appears possible.

After Standard & Poor's downgraded the country's credit rating following the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, credit-sensitive sectors such as high-yield bonds and emerging market debt took a hit and then rebounded later, he said.

"It was a really good entry point into those sectors," said Huber, who took advantage of that last time and is poised to do so again.

Huber said he thinks lawmakers will reach a solution without a default, but he's concerned that a drawn-out battle could end up hurting economic growth and business confidence.

Hardesty, whose firm manages $800 million, has shifted from holding 4 percent in cash in mid-August to 10 percent now. The move has less to do with a potential default than the fact that stocks have risen so high that it was time to take some profits, he said.

"It's a long time since we had a rest or a correction," he said.

But Hardesty, too, is fed up with lawmakers' brinkmanship over the debt ceiling.

"It's a very dangerous game of political chicken," he said.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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