After getting burned by the financial crisis in 2008, many investors have decided to sit on the sidelines instead of jumping back into equities. But Putnam Investments said at its mid-year equity markets briefing Tuesday at the St. Regis Hotel it sees the uncertainty in the financial markets as an opportunity.

“It’s natural that investors are risk-averse, but that’s the opportunity,” said Nick C. Thakore, a managing director and head of U.S. large-cap equities.

The optimism in the room at Putnam’s briefing was surprising after the pessimism that blanketed last week’s Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago.

Robert L. Reynolds, Putnam’s chief executive officer, acknowledged that so far this year the stock market has been flat, but, he believes that once concerns around financial reform and healthcare reform settle down, the second half of 2010 should be good.

Yet so far investors aren’t biting. With a 65% increase in equity markets in 2009, Reynolds expected equity flows would be back on track by now. But there is such a crisis of confidence that it is hard to get positive, he said in an interview on Tuesday: “The sooner we gain more certainty,  the better off we will be.”

All signs point to optimism ahead, said Nick Thakore, manager, Putnam Voyager Fund. The U.S. seems to be on a better trajectory in terms of the job market. And with $1.3 trillion in cash on corporations’ balance sheets, Thakore foresees an increase in mergers and acquisitions as well as an increase in dividends and buybacks of stocks.

Although Thakore doesn’t see as many opportunities in 2010 as he did in 2008 and 2009, he  is surprised by the number of opportunities in healthcare, financials and energy – the three sectors hardest hit by uncertainty.

Reynolds agrees. “Uncertainty makes everyone put their hands in their pockets,” he said. “But if you’re saving for college or anything else, you can’t afford to be making less than 1% in interest. The more we open up the paper and see negative, the more bullish we get.”