Here’s Why the Stock Market Relief of Late Last Week May Not Last

By William Patalon III
Executive Editor
Money Morning/The Money Map Report

While investors remain extremely concerned about the volatility of the U.S. stock market, the weakness of the American economy and the uncertainty of the global financial markets, last week brought “slight” relief from the excessive panic of the eight-trading-session losing streak. Bear in mind that each new economic report, earnings statement, news report or trading session represents a new opportunity for fear and uncertainty to reemerge.

Fortunately, next week’s economic calendar remains quite light, although retailers may just weigh in with “doom-and-gloom” holiday predictions.  Earnings season may be weak as well (with even more pessimistic outlooks), so investors should not overreact even if Texas Instruments Inc. (TXN), Halliburton Inc. (HAL), Inc. (AMZN) and others fail to meet expectations.  Volatility should continue and the days of triple-digit index moves (often up and down in the same day) may be here for a while.

So try not to get so overwhelmed with the seemingly never-ending challenges and uncertainties: The credit crisis, weak economy, plunging stock market, presidential election, etc.  Take everything one day at a time. The government actions are starting to thaw out the credit concerns and lending/borrowing should return to a somewhat normal level in due time. Declining energy and commodities prices should improve the inflation picture, which will help the consumer and allow the U.S. Federal Reserve to better focus on the struggling economy. Stocks tend to be leading indicators and often begin to rise even when the economy remains in the midst of a recession. The election (regardless of the victor) represents a new beginning, a new direction, a new attitude, and hopefully renewed confidence.

Market Matters

So much for less government.  With the presidential election at the homestretch, the candidates pushed their respective plans to rescue the economy in an attempt to appeal directly to Main Street folks like Joe the Plumber (basically more tax cuts vs. “spread the wealth”).  The bailout moves continued as U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. “Hank” Paulson Jr. (a self-proclaimed free-market capitalist, if there ever was one) announced that the government would invest $250 billion into the nation’s banks to stabilize the financial system.  Proponents refused to label it as”nationalization.” But don’t tell that to the pundits on Fox News this past weekend: Some went as far as to question whether the U.S. government is embracing full-fledged “socialization.”

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) will be expanding its insurance program on non-interest bearing accounts, a move designed to assist small businesses. Throughout Europe and Asia, similar moves also were approved, as the global efforts appeared to be well coordinated.  The Swiss National Bank took over about $60 billion of bad assets from UBS AG (UBS), leaving the institution with one of the cleanest balance sheets around.  Morgan Stanley (MS) received a $9 billion investment from Mitsubishi Bank UFJ Financial Group Inc.  (ADR: MTU), giving the Japanese giant a 21% interest in one of the last remaining domestic financial super-powers (and at better terms than initially negotiated).  JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) posted an 84% decline in third quarter profits (which still somehow bested analysts’ pessimistic expectations).  Likewise Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), Citigroup Inc. (C), and Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. (MER) (still under its pre-Bank of America Corp. (BAC) brand) suffered through “challenging” quarters, to say the least, and their short-term outlooks do not look any better. (Bring on those direct government investments). 

While the technology sector struggles from dire expectations of future corporate IT expenditures, eBay Inc. (EBAY), Google Inc. (GOOG), Intel Corp. (INTC) and International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) all announced relatively strong quarters – IBM even “pre-announced” its strong results – and chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) reported a narrower-than-expected loss.

Intel, IBM and AMD were all three topics of Money Morning’s new “Hot Stocks” feature, which chronicles the prospects of companies that are in the news.

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) apparently still thinks a deal to acquire Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) would make “economic sense,” though that $33 a share offer most likely would no longer apply for a stock trading below $13 a share.  General Motors Corp. (GM) intensified its merger talks with Chrysler Corp. and continued to explore sale options for its Hummer unit. But does $70 a barrel oil make those cool gas-guzzlers look attractive again?

Speaking of oil prices, the “black gold” plummeted to its lowest level in 13 months as prospects for a recession – or worse – continued to dampen energy demand.  Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) became the first to predict a decline as far as $50 a barrel, ironically just a few months after its analysts called for $200 oil over the next two years.  The 50% percent slide in prices has prompted a panicking Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to schedule an emergency meeting on Friday in Vienna, Austria. It will be the cartel’s 150th meeting. Gas prices are following in step as they pushed downward – in some areas through $3 a gallon, a 25% drop from the $4.11-per-gallon highs set in July.

Even so, as Money Morning reported, Merrill Lynch sees oil at $150 a barrel and gold at $1,500 an ounce, though its analysts provided no time frame.

Volatility continued as triple-digit-daily moves remain the norm.  Last Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke its eight-day (2,400 point) losing streak with a 936-point gain, its largest ever recorded.  Profit-taking and hedge fund redemptions followed, though bargain hunters reemerged at week’s end (until the final hour of trading).  The limited investor confidence was a welcome sign after the mass hysteria of the past weeks. 

The credit markets seem to be slowly (but surely) recovering with the government actions, though some banks remain hesitant to lend and businesses and consumers have been slow to borrow.  Then again, given time, more government just may work.                       

Market/ Index

Year Close (2007)

Qtr Close (09/30/08)

Previous Week

Current Week

YTD Change

Dow Jones Industrial












S&P 500






Russell 2000






Fed Funds





-275 bps

10 yr Treasury (Yield)





-10 bps

Economically Speaking

At this point, there should be no real surprises in terms of weak economic data.  However, when September retail sales was reported as down 1.2% (for the third consecutive month) and the Philly Fed survey plunged to its worst showing in 18 years, investors were surprisingly caught off guard.  While the “official” definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth, many analysts claim the country is already mired within one’s midst and the numbers will continue to reflect such weakness well into 2009.  The Fed Beige Book depicted that each region of the country is struggling and U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke did not rule out an additional rate cut at (or before) the Fed’s late October meeting.  Housing starts fell to the lowest level in 17 years and many believe that any recovery must start with a rebound in this long-suffering sector.  In fact, construction activity has plunged over 30% since September 2007.  (Could the next government intervention involve some direct mortgage relief for ailing homeowners?).

Now for some positive news (for a change).  The inflation picture is starting to look more promising as falling energy and other commodity prices begin to work their way through the U.S. economic system.  The wholesale inflation gauge – known a the producer price index, or PPI, fell for the second straight month, and consumer prices remained flat from August as gasoline prices slowly retreated.  Bear in mind, just a few short months ago, inflation was high on the Fed’s radar screen as Bernanke and friends were forced to tackle a weak economy and rising prices.  While the Fed’s “challenges” are far from over, talks of higher rates have disappeared and policymakers can focus all their energies on repairing the sluggish economy.             

Weekly Economic Calendar




October 15

PPI (09/08)

2nd straight monthly decline in wholesale inflation


Retail Sales (09/08)

Largest drop since August 2005


Fed Beige Book

As expected, weakness across all regions of the country

October 16

CPI (09/08)

Better than expected retail inflation reading


Initial Jobless Claims (10/11/08)

Claims declined though still suggest labor weakness


Industrial Production (09/08)

Worst showing since Dec. 1974, though hurricane-related

October 17

Housing Starts (09/08)

Lowest activity level in 17 years

The Week Ahead



October 20

Leading Eco. Indicators (09/08)


October 23

Initial Jobless Claims (10/11/08)


October 24

Existing Home Sales (09/08)


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About the Author

Before he moved into the investment-research business in 2005, William (Bill) Patalon III spent 22 years as an award-winning financial reporter, columnist, and editor. Today he is the Executive Editor and Senior Research Analyst for Money Morning at Money Map Press.

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