Sun, Nov 21, 2004 - Page 10 News List

US stocks plummet in the wake of Fed chairman's warning


Stocks fell sharply Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrials losing more than 115 points, as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan sounded a warning over the nation's spiraling trade deficit. Crude oil futures rose more than US$2 per barrel, further pressuring stocks.

Greenspan's unusually frank assessment of the trade imbalance and its effect on the US economy worried many investors. The Fed chairman said the economy was resilient thus far, but foreign investment could wane should the deficits continue to build and the US dollar remain weak.

"Certainly that has investors worried, though I'm not entirely sure why Greenspan chose to make a case out of this," said Lincoln Anderson, chief investment officer at LPL Financial Services in Boston. "The lower dollar will eventually force importers to raise prices, and that'll help cut the trade deficit. But nonetheless, it was unusual for him to speak out on it like that, and it's having an effect."

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 115.64, or 1.09 percent, to 10,456.91. It was the biggest single-session point drop for the Dow since Sept. 22.

Broader stock indicators also finished substantially lower. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 13.21, or 1.12 percent, at 1,170.34, and the NASDAQ composite index lost 33.65, or 1.6 percent, to 2,070.63.

Friday's performance pushed the major indexes to their first weekly loss after three straight weeks of gains, putting an end to the post-election rally on Wall Street. Most analysts, however, said the week's trading, and especially Friday's losses, were a pause in an overall positive market, and added that stocks would likely continue to rise into the new year.

For the week, the Dow fell 0.78 percent, the S&P 500 shed 1.17 percent, and the NASDAQ lost 0.71 percent.

Friday's trading was also pressured by oil prices, which rose in response to a US government report that showed a drop in inventory for distillates such as heating oil -- critical as winter approaches.

A barrel of light crude was quoted at US$48.44, up US$2.22, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Despite oil prices and Greenspan's assessment of the trade deficit, analysts said that the overall market remains strong, and that Friday's selloff amounted to profit-taking after weeks of strong gains.

"Today is more of a blip on the screen, with people using Mr Greenspan's comments as an excuse to take some profits," said Stewart Freeman, chief equity strategist for AG Edwards & Sons. "We're exiting a period of uncertainty with the elections and terrorism and worries about slowing profit growth, and I think we're set up nicely to continue upward after this."

Pharmaceutical stocks fell as investors digested Thursday's Senate hearing over Merck & Co's arthritis drug Vioxx, which was pulled from the market due to a high risk of heart attack and stroke.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 8.62, or 1.39 percent, at 613.44.

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