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Stock market takes a break

The Dow falls 5.18 points, the smallest net gain or loss for any session since June 30.

November 04, 2008|Tom Petruno | Petruno is a Times staff writer.

Finally -- an incredibly boring day in the stock market.

After last month's harrowing volatility, Wall Street took an unofficial holiday Monday as the election approached.

The Dow Jones industrial average finished with a loss of 5.18 points, or less than 0.1%, at 9,319.83. It was the average's smallest net gain or loss for any session since June 30.

Broader market indexes also were little changed. Trading was light.

More amazing, after what we've lived through since Labor Day, was the lack of volatility during Monday's trading: From the high early in the session to the low in the last hour, the Dow swung just 155 points. It was the smallest intraday move since Sept. 3. In October, the high-to-low range averaged 594 points.

And Monday saw none of the usual end-of-session pyrotechnics.

"Today was abnormally normal," said Richard Sparks, equity analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati.

Some people speculated that this was a market-wide day for playing hooky -- a mental-health day for many Wall Street players after the grueling trading of the last two months.

Volatility is a natural response to uncertainty. The presidential election, at least, no longer seems to be a source of uncertainty. It appears that the market believes the polls, which point to victory for Democrat Barack Obama.

"Everybody knows who's going to win," said Barry Savitz, a senior managing partner at Greenwich Prime Trading Group in Stamford, Conn.

Still, uncertainty remains in excess supply on other issues, including the makeup of the new Congress. A big gain for the Democrats, coupled with an Obama victory, could fuel investor concern about Democratic policies, particularly on taxes.

What the market would really like to know is how bad a recession we're facing, and when it will end.

Bob Doll, chief investment officer of money manager BlackRock Inc. in New York, says investors are torn between the seemingly cheap levels of many stocks and fear of a "deeper than typical" recession.

"The collision of these positive and negative forces will likely result in continued high levels of volatility," he said.

The oil market got no break from volatility Monday. Crude futures fell $3.90 to $63.91 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Interest rates on loans between banks continued their slow decline, suggesting an easing of at least one choke point in the credit crunch. The three-month London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, fell to 2.86% from 3.03%.

Investors' demand for short-term government debt remained high, however, signaling that they remain cautious. The yield on the three-month Treasury bill rose to 0.53% from 0.43% late Friday.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 3.9% from 3.96%.

In other market highlights:

* Walt Disney lost 3.4% after Merrill Lynch said the economic slowdown would hurt the company's theme-park and television revenue.

* AT&T jumped 3.9% after Wachovia described its valuation as "compelling."

* Halliburton fell 7.2% after the oil-field-service provider was downgraded to "neutral" from "buy" by Goldman Sachs. Energy stocks in the S&P 500 slipped 2%, making them the index's worst-performing broad industry group.

* The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 2.45 points, or 0.3%, to 966.30, and the Nasdaq composite index climbed 5.38 points, or 0.3%, to 1,726.33. The Russell 2,000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 0.98 of a point, or 0.2%, to 538.50.

* Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange.

* Stocks gained overseas. Key indexes rose 1.5% in Britain, 0.8% in Germany, 1.2% in France and 2.7% in Hong Kong. Japan's stock market was closed for a holiday.

* The dollar rose against most other major currencies. Gold prices also rose.

--

Times wire services were used in compiling this report.

tom.petruno@latimes.com

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