Wall Street eyes holiday season with little to cheer
AFP - Sunday, November 23
NEW YORK (AFP) - - Wall Street enters the year-end holiday season this coming week with little to cheer about as the worst bear market in decades appears to be grinding on.
While some say stocks have been beaten down to cheap levels, investors remain fearful that the worst is not yet over, fretting over a possible collapse of the US auto industry or more troubles for major banks.
As a result, the cheer normally expected with the Thanksgiving Day holiday Thursday that traditionally opens the year-end holiday is noticeably absent.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq hit their lowest levels in over five years in the past week and the broad-market Standard & Poor's 500 fell to its weakest since 1997.
Although the market ended Friday on a high note, with a big rally inspired by news that president-elect Barack Obama had chosen New York Federal Reserve chief Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary, the losses for the week were still staggering.
In the week to Friday, Dow index tumbled 5.31 percent to 8,046.42.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq sank 8.74 percent to 1,384.35 and the broad-market Standard & Poor's 500 dropped 8.39 percent to 800.03.
The past week was filled with glum economic news. US unemployment claims surged to a 16-year high while housing starts fell to the lowest levels on record.
Consumer prices fell at a steep rate, raising worries about deflation, while the Federal Reserve slashed its economic outlook, acknowledging a likely recession well into next year.
Citigroup shares plunged by some 50 percent, raising fears about the survival of one the US banking titans, and an anticipated bailout of the US auto sector was postponed in Congress, raising the specter of collapse.
Yves Smith, analyst with the financial website Naked Capitalism, said a collapse of General Motors would be "a disaster of colossal proportions."
"GM would be a massive bankruptcy. It is doubtful whether it could obtain enough (debtor) financing, which means it might be forced into a partial, perhaps a full liquidation. The ramifications are nightmarish."
The stock market reflected those worries.
"Stocks are down roughly 50 percent from their highs in the US, Canada and Europe, representing the worst bear market in the postwar period," said Sherry Cooper, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.
"No reasonable person is calling a bottom in stocks or the economy right now. Developed and emerging market economies are both moving deeper into recession."
Fred Dickson, market strategist at DA Davidson & Co. said the market is "massively oversold," but that "investors continue to hold lots of cash watching and waiting for signs of stabilization in the stock market before committing some of it to new positions."
"Evidence of a huge and growing global recession has caused investors to reassess overall the market valuation level," he said.
Bob Dickey at RBC Wealth Management said that even if stocks have not yet hit bottom, this may not be far off, and urged investors to hang on to their shares.
"After such a broad and deep drubbing it's likely that when a rally comes it will also be equally dramatic on the upside so selling now could be one of the worst exercises in poor market timing that an investor could do," he said.
Linda Duessel at Federated Investors said the market breached key technical levels in the past week, with the S&P falling below 770 points, hurting confidence.
Although some analysts say this could mean further selling, Duessel said "We simply don't think we're in a recession that much worse than the worst on record."
Bue she added that "given the rapid decline of recent days and the potential for more forced selling by hedge funds, investors may want to stay on the sidelines until the dust settles."
In a sign of the panic in the past week, the bond market soared to historic highs.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond fell to 3.167 percent from 3.750 percent a week earlier, and then the 30-year Treasury bond tumbled to 3.663 percent against 4.230 percent. The lower yields reflect higher bond prices.
In the coming week, investors will digest reports on existing and new US home sales and consumer confidence, and get at least some respite with the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday.
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File photo shows a trader wearing a Christmas hat in the New York Stock Exchange. Wall Street enters the year-end holiday season with little to cheer about as the worst bear market in decades appears to be grinding on with many fearful that the worst is not yet over.
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