Stocks End Wild Session Mixed after 8-Day Slide

October 10, 2008 - 5:41 PM
Wall Street capped its worst week ever with a wild session Friday that saw the Dow Jones industrials rocket within a 1,000 point range before closing with a relatively mild loss and the Nasdaq composite index actually end with a modest advance.<br />
New York (AP) - Wall Street capped its worst week ever with a wild session Friday that saw the Dow Jones industrials rocket within a 1,000 point range before closing with a relatively mild loss and the Nasdaq composite index actually end with a modest advance. Investors were still agonizing over frozen credit markets, but seven days of massive losses made many stocks tempting for traders looking for bargains.
 
The Dow lost 128 points, giving the blue chips an eight-day loss of just under 2,400. The average had its worst week on record in both point and percentage terms, as did the Standard & Poor's 500 index, the indicator most watched by market professionals.
 
But there were signs Friday that some investors might believe the market was at or near a bottom. Just one day earlier, selling accelerated in the last hour of trading, giving the Dow a loss of 678 points, as many market players fled, while Friday, many people were clearly buying. And the Russell 2000 index, which tracks the movements of smaller company stocks, had a 4.66 percent gain Friday; small-cap stocks are often first on investors' shopping lists when they think a market turnaround is at hand.
 
The hair-trigger mentality of the market - a reflection of the intense anxiety on the Street - was evident from the opening bell. The Dow fell 696 points in the first 15 minutes, recovered to an advance of more than 100 before the first hour was over, then turned sharply lower again before moving in swings of hundreds of points at the day's end.
 
Investors have spent much of the past month shuddering over a credit market that remains frozen, posing a threat to the economy. But Friday's gainers included financial stocks, the ones most decimated amid the ongoing banking and credit crisis.
 
The major indexes' sharp swings throughout the day were likely exacerbated by the computer-driven "buy" and "sell" orders that kicked in when prices fell far enough to make some stocks look like attractive bets or make other investors want to exit the market. The spurts of buying didn't reflect an easing of the market's despair, and trading is likely to remain volatile when the market reopens on Monday.
 
"Fear has been running rampant all over the Street. Fear and greed, that's what rules the Street. I think the carcass has been stripped to the bone," said Dave Henderson, a floor trader on the New York Stock Exchange for Raven Securities Corp.
 
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow fell 128.00, or 1.49 percent, to 8,451.49. At its low point Friday, the Dow was down 696 at 7,882.51, just 60 points above its low in Wall Street's last bear market, 7,286.27, reached Oct. 9, 2002. It crossed the line between gains and losses 32 times during the session.
 
The Dow rebounded from a low of 7,882.51 for the day - the worst trading level since March 17, 2003. Still, its closing level Friday was the lowest since April 25, 2003.
 
The Dow has lost 1,874.19 points, or 18.2 percent, over the past week. Its dismal performance outdid the week that ended July 22, 1933, which saw a 17 percent drop - and back then, during the Great Depression, there were six trading days in a week.
 
Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 10.70 or 1.18 percent, to 899.22, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 4.39, or 0.27 percent, to 1,649.51.
 
The Russell 2000 rose 23.28, or 4.66 percent, to 522.48.
 
President Bush said Friday the government's efforts to rescue the financial sector was powerful enough to succeed but that it would take some time to be fully implemented.
 
His remarks came as finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven nations gathered Friday in Washington to discuss the economic meltdown. One of the potential remedies expected to be reviewed at the meeting is for governments to guarantee lending among banks.
 
Most major central banks around the world slashed interest rates this week after continuing problems in the credit market triggered concerns that banks will run out of money. Analysts have described the mood on trading floors this week as panicked at times, with investors bailing out of investments on fears there is no end in sight to the financial carnage.
 
A stream of selling forced exchanges in Austria, Russia and Indonesia to suspend trading, and those that remained opened were hammered. The rout in Australian markets caused traders there to call it "Black Friday."
 
European stocks sank Friday, with Britain's FTSE-100 falling 8.85 percent, German's DAX declining 7.01 percent, and France's CAC-40 ending down 7.73 percent. In Asia, the collapse of Japan's Yamato Life Insurance caused already nervous investors to pull even more money out of the market - the Nikkei 225 fell 9.6 percent.
 
An index considered to be Wall Street's fear gauge reached record highs on Friday in another sign of massive investor anxiety. The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, known as the VIX, rose to an all-time intraday high of 76.94 Friday. The VIX, which usually trades under 50, tracks options activity for the companies that make up the S&P 500.
 
Still, prospects of further government help and, perhaps, attractive prices helped parts of the financial sector show signs of life. Big national banks were among the gainers, including Bank of America Corp., which rose $1.24, or 6.3 percent, to $20.87. Some smaller banks also rose, including Fifth Third Bank Corp., which advanced 67 cents, or 6.9 percent, to $10.40.
 
Not all financials enjoyed a bounce, however. Morgan Stanley Inc. fell $2.77, or 22 percent, to $9.68 as investors worried that even with a major investment from Japan's Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group the company was still facing troubles. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. fell $12.55, or 12 percent, to $88.80.
 
Citigroup Inc. said late Thursday it was suspending its bid to acquire Wachovia Corp., which will be acquired by Wells Fargo & Co. Citigroup rose $1.18, or 9.1 percent, to $14.11, while Wells Fargo fell $1.06, or 3.9 percent, to $28.31. Wachovia surged $1.55, or 43 percent, to $5.15.
 
Financials were most prominent among the smattering of stocks that rose in the S&P 500, though technology stocks generally advanced. Apple Inc. rose $8.06, or 9.1 percent, to $96.80, while eBay Inc. rose 77 cents, or 4.8 percent, to $16.73.
 
Investors appeared unfazed by final results arriving in afternoon trading from an auction Friday that set the price of debt issued by now bankrupt Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. at 8.625 cents on the dollar, down from a preliminary estimate of 9.75 cents.
 
The auction was for credit default swaps, which are contracts used to insure against the default of financial instruments like bonds and corporate debt. Traded in a $60 trillion, unregulated market, many of the instruments have fallen sharply because of their ties to bad mortgage debt. Those big losses and nervousness about who holds what CDS has made financial institutions hesitant to lend to one another. The auction could help the market determine which companies are most at risk from CDS losses.