Major indexes fall more than 6 percent for week
NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street ended another terrible week Friday, leaving major indexes down more than 6 percent as investors worried that the recession will persist for at least the rest of the year and that government intervention will do little to hasten a recovery.
Investors shaved 100 points off the Dow Jones industrial average just a day after the market's best-known indicator dropped to its lowest level since the depths of the last bear market, in 2002. Stocks of struggling financial companies were among the hardest hit.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index, the barometer most closely watched by market pros, came close to its lowest point in nearly 12 years.
"Right now, more than a crisis in mortgages or in housing, we have a crisis in confidence. That is biggest problem in trying to analyze the current market," said James Stack, president of market research firm InvesTech Research in Whitefish, Mont. "You cannot analyze psychology."
Wall Street has been sinking lower as investors come to terms with the fact that the optimism behind a late-2008 rally was clearly unfounded. Companies' forecasts for this year, on top of a dismal series of fourth-quarter earnings reports, pounded home the reality that no one can determine when the recession will end.
"It was a market that was built on that hope, and what we're seeing now is an unwinding of that," said Todd Salamone, director of trading and vice president of research at Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati, of the rally from late November to early January.
The disappointment seen this week arose from the market's growing recognition that the Obama administration's multibillion-dollar stimulus and bailout programs are unlikely to turn the economy around anytime soon.
"There were a lot of people that were banking on Washington to get us out of this. I don't know if there is anything Washington can do," Salamone said. He said the global economy is going through the tedious process of reducing borrowing and working through bad debt — something government help can't speed up.
With the week erasing whatever shreds of hope the market had, there is virtually no chance of a rally on Wall Street. What the market might see is a blip upward — but blips tend to evaporate quickly.
That's what happened Friday. Stocks erased some of their losses after White House press secretary Robert Gibbs doused fears that the government would nationalize crippled banks. Investors who worried about seeing their shares wiped out by a government takeover welcomed the news, but it didn't ease broader concerns about the economy.
The Dow Jones industrials briefly went into positive territory, but quickly turned down again.
Salamone said investors had been too hopeful in late 2008 and at the start of this year that the new administration would be able to swiftly disentangle the economy.
The Dow industrials fell 100.28 points, or 1.3 percent, to 7,365.67 after earlier falling more than 215 points. On Thursday, the Dow broke through its Nov. 20 low of 7,552.29, and closed at its lowest level since Oct. 9, 2002.
The Dow's 6.2 percent slide for the week was its worst performance since the week ended Oct. 10, when it lost 18.2 percent.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index on Friday fell 8.89, or 1.14 percent, to 770.05. The benchmark most watched by traders came within less than 2 points of its Nov. 20 close of 752.44, which was its lowest since April 1997. It remains above its Nov. 21 trading low of 741.02.
The Nasdaq composite index fell 1.59, or 0.11 percent, to 1,441.23.
For the week, the S&P fell 6.9 percent, while the Nasdaq lost 6.1 percent.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 3 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to a heavy 8.12 billion shares as options contracts expired. Volume on Thursday came to 5.64 billion shares.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 5.75, or 1.4 percent, to 410.96.
Other world indicators also fell sharply. Britain's FTSE 100 declined 3.2 percent, Germany's DAX index tumbled 4.8 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 4.3 percent.
Shares of financial bellwethers Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. fell on worries the government will have to take control of them. Citigroup tumbled 22 percent, while Bank of America fell 3.6 percent. The stocks were down as much as 36 percent during the session.
The fears about the banks are hurting shareholders of those companies and dragging down the rest of the market because the broader economy can't function properly when banks are unable to lend at more normal levels.
"Financing is the blood which runs through our nation's veins. It's what keeps us alive," said Lawrence Creatura, a portfolio manager at Federated Clover Investment Advisors.
He said the talk of nationalizing banks only underscores the troubles with the economy.
"Things are clearly not normal. It's not healthy. The patient was on life support, and now what we're talking about getting out the paddle with respect to nationalization," Creatura said.
As investors dropped out of stocks, safer investments like Treasury debt and gold rose. The price of the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose sharply, sending its yield down to 2.79 percent from 2.86 percent. The yield on the three-month T-bill, considered one of the safest investments, fell to 0.26 percent from 0.30 percent late Thursday.
Gold broke above $1,000, closing at $1,002.20 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Investors are looking desperately at any safe havens simply because the stock market, which rises and falls on investors' expectations for the future, sees only trouble ahead.
"There's still a big fear factor syndrome," said Michael Strauss, chief economist and market strategist at Commonfund. "There is a focus on what is happening here and now instead of six months to nine months from now."
The Dow Jones industrial average closed the week down 484.74, or 6.2 percent, at 7,365.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 56.79, or 6.9 percent, to 770.05. The Nasdaq composite index fell 93.13, or 6.1 percent, closing at 1,441.23.
The Russell 2000 index, which tracks the performance of small company stocks, declined 37.40, or 8.3 percent, to 410.96.
The Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 Composite Index — a free-float weighted index that measures 5,000 U.S. based companies — ended at 7,802.27, down 583.47, or 6.96 percent, for the week. A year ago, the index was at 13,758.35.