A better than expected start to the holiday shopping season was good for all of a 30-minute rally Monday before credit and housing market concerns sent stocks plunging once again.
After starting the day out modestly higher, the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq all ended the day about 2% lower, extending a brutal slide that began last month and has now shaved 10% off the major averages, the first official stock market correction since the start of the Iraq war in 2003. Not surprisingly, stocks with heavy exposure to the mortgage market meltdown led the way lower once again, with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Countrywide Financial, Washington Mutual and Citigroup among the names suffering steep declines.
The latest decline on the subprime mortgage fiasco began last month after the Federal Reserve suggested it was concerned enough about inflation that it might be done cutting interest rates to stem the credit market meltdown. Since rate cuts push the U.S. dollar lower and spur economic growth by making loans cheaper, they can send oil and other commodities higher, fueling inflation. And with oil nearing a record $100 a barrel, the Fed is worried that the price of oil and other commodities could begin showing up in retail prices.
Investors will get a good sense this week whether more rate cuts are in store, with eight Fed officials scheduled to speak, including chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday. The Fed next meets on Dec. 11. The Fed’s beige book reading of economic conditions on Wednesday will also be watched for signs that the Fed has room to cut rates further.
E*Trade shares fell 14% on reports that potential buyers Schwab and Ameritrade are questioning the value of E*Trade’s mortgage holdings.
Garmin and Apple gained on hopes for strong holiday sales, but the rest of the tech sector was mired in red ink, led lower by the likes of Microsoft, Cisco and Intel. Microsoft fell 3.3% despite reports of strong gaming sales, and even Amazon finished with a slight loss.
VMware lost nearly 10% on negative comments from Cowen & Co., sending parent company EMC nearly 6% lower.
Baidu and Shanda Interactive posted gains of about 6% each.
The Nasdaq fell 55 to 2540, the S&P lost 33 to 1407, and the Dow tumbled 237 to 12,743. Volume declined from Wednesday’s pre-holiday levels to 3.71 billion shares on the NYSE, and 2.02 billion on the Nasdaq. Decliners led by a 26-8 margin on the NYSE, and 22-8 on the Nasdaq. Downside volume was 86% on the NYSE, and 82% on the Nasdaq. New highs-new lows were 45-340 on the NYSE, and 54-287 on the Nasdaq.