Sun, Mar 01, 2009 - Page 10 News List

Wall Street braces for more anguish

WHERE’S THE BOTTOM? US government efforts to pump cash into the banking sector might result in ‘zombie’ banks oozing toxic assets, one analyst said


Deep in the red for the first two months of this year, Wall Street enters March with frayed nerves in anticipation of more weak data as investors look for any signs of an end to the horrific economic slump.

With some indexes at 12-year lows, the market remains cautious about the economic outlook, despite reassuring comments in the past week from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke suggesting the worst crisis in decades could ease this year.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average of 20 blue-chips slid 4.1 percent to end Friday at 7,062.93, its lowest level since 1997.

The broad-market Standard & Poor’s 500 sank to its lowest close since December 1996, losing 4.5 percent to 735.09.

The technology-heavy NASDAQ composite fell 4.4 percent over the week to 1,377.84, near its lows from last November.

With a bear market in full force, the Dow has dropped 19.52 percent so far this year after a slide of more than 11 percent for last month. The S&P is off 18.62 percent in the year and the NASDAQ down 12.63 percent.

Al Goldman at Wachovia Securities acknowledged that he was wrong in suggesting the market had established a low point in November but still held out hope for a rebound soon.

“In hindsight, our timing may have been too optimistic; the bottoming out for the bear could start somewhat lower,” he said. “However, history shows that the economy and the stock market will recover.”

The market got a brief lift early in the week after Bernanke suggested the recession could end this year — but added that this was contingent on a series of rescues and stimulus efforts working as intended.

Investors had to cope with more grim economic news including a downward revision showing a stunning 6.2 percent annualized drop in fourth quarter economic activity, highlighting a deepening recession.

A government plan to boost its stake in troubled banking giant Citigroup to as much as 36 percent through a stock conversion also roiled the market and sparked further debate over whether the move was an effective nationalization.

Sal Guatieri at BMO Capital Markets said it was unclear whether this type of action, which could be extended to other banks, would revive them or simply keep them alive as “zombie” banks.

“An ongoing concern is that the toxic assets held by ‘zombie’ banks on government life-support could continue to bleed value from the illiquid assets held by still-healthy banks,” he said.

The coming week could bring more bad news, with last month’s auto sales expected to be weak and a payrolls survey expected to show further massive job losses — perhaps as many as 600,000, according to some analysts.

Yet some analysts say the stock market is “oversold,” having already discounted the worst economic scenario.

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