February 24, 2009 in Business

Markets tumble to 1997 levels

Government’s ‘lack of clarity’ on recovery prompts another sell-off from investors
Tim Paradis Associated Press
 

For the year

Dow: Down 1,661.61, or 18.9 percent.

S&P 500: Down 159.92, or 17.7 percent.

Nasdaq: Down 189.31, or 12.0 percent.

NEW YORK – Wall Street has turned the clock back to 1997.

Investors unable to extinguish their worries about a recession that has no end in sight dumped stocks again Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 251 points to its lowest close since May 7, 1997, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index logged its lowest finish since April 11, 1997. It’s as if the decade’s dot-com surge, collapse and subsequent recovery never occurred.

The Dow is just over 100 points from 7,000. Both indexes have lost about half their value since hitting record highs in October 2007.

“People left and right are throwing in the towel,” said Keith Springer, president of Capital Financial Advisory Services.

Investors pounded most financial stocks even as government agencies led by the Treasury Department said they would launch a revamped bank rescue program this week. The plan includes the option of increasing government ownership in financial institutions without having to pour more taxpayer money into them.

Although the government has said it doesn’t want to nationalize banks, many investors are clearly still concerned that this could be a possibility as banks continue to suffer severe losses because of the recession. They’re also worried that banks’ losses will keep escalating as the recession sends more borrowers into default.

“The biggest thing I see here is the incredible pessimism,” Springer said. “The government is doing a lousy job of alleviating fears.”

The Treasury and other agencies issued a statement after the Wall Street Journal reported Citigroup is in talks for the government to boost its stake in the bank to as much as 40 percent. Analysts said the market, which initially rose on the statement, wanted more details of the government’s plans.

“It’s only a very partial picture of what we may get,” said Quincy Krosby, chief investment strategist at the Hartford. “This proverbial lack of clarity is damaging market psychology.”

Meanwhile, technology stocks fell after the Journal reported that Yahoo Inc.’s new chief executive plans to reorganize the company. But the selling came across the market as pessimism about the recession and its toll on companies deepened.

“There’s nowhere to hide anymore,” said Jim Herrick, director of equity trading at Baird & Co.

The market’s decline extends massive losses from last week when the major stock indexes tumbled more than 6 percent. While falling to their 1997 levels, the major indexes plunged through the lows they reached in late November, at the height of the credit crisis.

“There’s no main driver of the down day,” said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer’s Investment Research. “There’s just so much skepticism in the overall market, and (the question is) is the government doing proper things to get us out of this problem. Obviously the stock market is voting no.”

The Dow dropped 250.89, or 3.41 percent, to 7,114.78. It last closed this low on May 7, 1997, when it finished at 7,085.65. The Dow hasn’t traded below the 7,000 mark since October 1997. The index is down 14 percent over the past 10 sessions.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 26.72, or 3.47 percent, to 743.33. It was the lowest close since April 11, 1997, when it ended at 737.65.

When the indexes were last at these levels, they were in their ascendancy, climbing amid the dot-com boom. But 1997 was also the year that saw stock prices later plunge amid a growing financial crisis in Asia. Far away from Wall Street, it was the year that the U.S. first heard the name Monica Lewinsky, whose relationship with President Bill Clinton led to his impeachment and trial. And it was the year that the world was stunned by the death of Britain’s Princess Diana on Aug. 31.

On Monday, the S&P 500 did close above its Nov. 21 trading low of 741.02. But the 14-month recession has decimated the major indexes: The Dow is down 49.8 percent from its record highs of October 2007, while the S&P 500 index is down 52.5 percent.

© Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Get stories like this in a free daily email


Please keep it civil. Don't post comments that are obscene, defamatory, threatening, off-topic, an infringement of copyright or an invasion of privacy. Read our forum standards and community guidelines.

You must be logged in to post comments. Please log in here or click the comment box below for options.

comments powered by Disqus