Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fed Cut Not Enough; Dow Drops 294

The cost of cheap money, the crack cocaine of Wall Street, was lowered again on Tuesday as the FOMC of the Federal Reserve dropped the federal funds rate 25 basis points to 4.25%. The Fed also made borrowing by member banks easier by lowering the discount rate an equal amount to 4.75%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, that blue chip basket of 30 stocks which is the most widely-watched index in the investing universe, tumbled 294 points on the news.

The mad selling on heavy volume commenced immediately upon the Fed announcement at 2:15 pm, when the Dow and other indices were at or near their highs of the day, though up only marginally. Watching the ticker was like seeing a huge tsunami lay waste to an island atoll - the tumultuous devastation was nearly total.

Dow 13,432.77 -294.26; NASDAQ 2,652.35 -66.60; S&P 500 1,477.65 -38.31; NYSE Composite 9,838.26 Down 266.16

The final hour and 45 minutes of Tuesday's session wiped out nearly a third of the gains of the past ten sessions in which the Dow spiked almost 1000 points. The massive selloff was neither unexpected nor unprecedented, however, as investors were simply following the ancient adage of "buy the rumor, sell the news." A rate cut had been already priced into stocks, but investors were wishing (as is often the case this time of year) for 50 basis points and treated the Fed's offering like a spoiled child getting less than expected on Christmas Day.

Investors may have bid stocks up in the previous mini-rally on false hope and a good dose of momentum, but that all changed on the Fed news. Stocks made a dramatic u-turn, the kind seen in the midst of bear markets. The correction that began in August on frightening sub-prime news should now continue unabated for the balance of 2007.

What will weigh on the minds of investors for the next few weeks are retail sales, and, unless there's some kind of miracle at the malls across the great expanse of America, stocks are in for a year-end beating the likes of which they have seldom seen. In addition to shocks from the checkout counters, January's earnings season is beginning to look more like a clearance sale than a Saturday stroll down the aisles as 4th quarter and 2008 warnings, like today's from Dow stalwart General Electric, are already to begin trickling out from the board rooms to the streets.

The rate cut, seen by some (including this writer) as completely unnecessary and ineffectual, did have the expected effect on oil prices, which rose $2.16 to $90.02. Gold gained $3.60 to $817.10; silver slid two cents to end the day at $14.87.

Selling was broad-based, sparing no sector in particular. Advancing issues were overwhelmed by decliners, 5167-1212. After being beaten over the past two sessions, new lows took back the lead position, a posture it had previously held for more than a month straight, overcoming new highs, 260-203.

The Dow confirmed a short term bearish trend today. The reversal in the new highs-new lows reading also should be telling. The market's reaction to the Fed's rate maneuver was telegraphic of a very nervous emotional environment. People need to pay particular attention to investments over the next six months. US stocks may not be the best selection due to competitive, dollar-related or pricing issues.

NYSE Volume 3,996,278,250
NASDAQ Volume 2,192,045,750

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