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Stronger-than-expected GDP fails to prop up market; Wall Street extends decline

Saturday, July 28, 2007

(Photo)
Traders worked their post Friday on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
(Louis Lanzano ~ Associated Press)
NEW YORK -- Wall Street extended its steep decline Friday, propelling the Dow Jones industrials down more than 500 points over two days after investors gave in to mounting concerns that borrowing costs would climb for both companies and homeowners. It was the worst week for the Dow and the Standard & Poor's 500 index in five years.

Investors cast aside a stronger-than-expected read on the economy and maintained negative sentiment that dominated Thursday when the market shuddered amid worries over the U.S. mortgage and corporate lending markets. Investors globally took flight from equities, shifting cash into safer investments in Treasury bonds.

The pullback Thursday and Friday wiped out $526.1 billion in shareholder wealth from the stocks in the Standard & Poor's 500 index.

Although the market has often rebounded after a steep drop -- and has done so in recent weeks -- investors appeared unable Friday to set aside their concerns about a weakening housing market and tightening credit.

A Commerce Department report that the U.S. gross domestic product rose at a better-than-expected pace in the second quarter appeared to do little to quell investors' unease Friday. GDP increased at a 3.4 percent annual rate, indicating that the drag from the housing sector lessened. Economists had expected an increase of 3.3 percent.

Although the GDP reading might have reassured investors that the economy was more than holding up even with soaring fuel prices, it could also raise the possibility that the Federal Reserve, ever vigilant about inflation, might put off a rate cut or even raise rates. Higher rates would exacerbate the market's intensifying concerns about credit.

"I think people are really cautious right now. We're seeing the convergence of a whole host of sort of unrelated or only slightly related issues," said Randy Frederick, director of derivatives at Charles Schwab & Co. He contends market volatility will remain as investors sort through issues such as the availability of credit for corporate buyouts, soured subprime mortgages and rising energy prices.

The Dow fell 208.10, or 1.54 percent, to 13,265.47, with nearly 140 points of that loss coming in the final half-hour of trading. For the week, the index fell more than 585 points, or 4.23 percent. The week's point decline was the worst in five years, while the percentage decline was the largest since late March 2003.

The Dow, which had seen back-and-forth sessions before the declines Thursday and Friday, only last week traded above 14,000 for the first time. The Dow's retrenchment leaves it 756 points below its high from last week. That 5.4 percent decline puts it more than halfway toward the technical threshold of a correction, which is 10 percent.

Broader stock indicators also fell Friday. The S&P 500 ended down 23.71, or 1.60 percent, at 1,458.95. For the week, the S&P gave up 4.90 percent. It was the S&P's worst performance, in percentage terms, since the week ended July 19, 2002.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 37.10, or 1.43 percent, to 2,562.24. It was down 4.66 percent for the week, marking the index's worst run since the stock market had a pullback that began Feb. 27.

Small stocks took an especially devastating blow during the week, in part because the global economy is growing faster than that of the United States. Investors often regard profits at larger companies as more likely to hold up amid a U.S. slowdown because much of their business is drawn from overseas.

The Russell 2000 index of small-capitalization stocks fell 13.65, or 1.72 percent, to 777.83. For the week, the index dropped 7.01 percent, the most since September 2001.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to a heavy 4.82 billion shares compared with a record 5.84 billion shares seen Thursday.

Bonds added to a huge advance logged Thursday as investors clearly sought the relative safety of Treasurys. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 4.77 percent from 4.79 percent late Thursday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Light, sweet crude settled up $2.06 at $77.01 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, just a penny shy of its all-time high.

"I think we're going to have continued sideways movement with 100 point up-and-down days," said Frederick, referring to the Dow's back-and-forth movements.

"The 14,000 level is going to be tough for this market to get back above," Frederick said.

Still, he said investors shouldn't overreact to the moves, in part because of the gains stocks have logged this year. Before Thursday's decline, the Dow was up 10.6 percent for the year, while the S&P had gained 7.04 percent and the Nasdaq 9.64 percent.

"You look at a 300-point Dow day and it seems like a big day but from a percentage viewpoint it's not a big move," Frederick said.

The volatility that has taken up residence on Wall Street in recent days has perhaps exacerbated concerns of investors grown accustomed to the largely calm markets of recent years. The Chicago Board Options Exchange's volatility index, known as the VIX, and often referred to as the "fear index," jumped Thursday and rose again Friday to its highest level since April 2003.

"My basic belief is that we're in an environment where we're going from extremely low volatility toward normal -- from extremely low credit spreads and perception of risk toward normal," said Bart Geer, portfolio leader of the $3.9 billion Putnam Equity Income Fund.

"You can't have all bull markets all the time. Markets go up and go down. The reason you're well paid in equities is because they do. This is all part of the process."

There was little corporate earnings news for traders to mull over, with about half the Standard & Poor's 500 index already having posted results over the past few weeks. The biggest earnings news came from Chevron Corp., which reported second-quarter profit climbed 24 percent to surpass analyst estimates as the second largest U.S. oil company cashed in on higher gasoline prices. Chevron fell $2.26, or 2.6 percent, to $85.20.

Evidence that not all private-equity deals have screeched to a halt came as Lee Equity Partners LLC struck a deal to acquire retailer Deb Shops Inc. for about $391.1 million. Deb fell 17 cents to $26.51.

Also, medical device maker Medtronic Inc., seeking to expand its spinal products business, said it would acquire device maker Kyphon Inc. for $3.9 billion. Kyphon jumped $12.92, or 24 percent, to $66.60. The stock rose as high as $68.40, moving above its previous 52-week high of $57.10. Medtronic slipped 11 cents to $50.81.

Most Asian markets fell Friday in reaction to the market plunge, while European markets -- which were open during part of the big U.S. drop Thursday -- showed more modest moves Friday. Japan's Nikkei stock average closed down 2.36 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 2.76 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.58 percent, Germany's DAX index dropped 0.76 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 0.55 percent.


The Dow Jones industrial average ended the week down 585.61, or 4.23 percent, at 13,265.47. The Standard & Poor's 500 index finished down 75.15, or 4.90 percent, at 1,458.95. The Nasdaq composite index ended down 125.36, or 4.66 percent, at 2,562.24.

The Russell 2000 index finished the week down 58.61, or 7.01 percent, at 777.83.

The Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 Composite Index -- a free-float weighted index that measures 5,000 U.S. based companies -- ended Friday at 14,710.78, down 795.70 for the week. A year ago, the index was at 12,634.11.


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