Garrett Harris 8 p.m., Aug. 19
Dow Plunges 348 -- but Recovers from Near 1,000 Drop
It was a wild day on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 348, or 3.21%. The NASDAQ was down 3.44% and the Standard & Poor's 500 down 3.24%. At one point, the Dow was down almost 1,000. The word is now that there was a "fat finger" trading error at some big bank, rumored to be Citigroup. Somebody may have pressed "billion" when he/she meant to press "million," for example. The Dow lost 700 in 15 minutes and gained 600 in the next 20 minutes. Obviously, this is not normal, even in a panic. If there is any integrity on Wall Street (and don't count on it), there will be a re-examination of the split-second trading in which stocks trade hands in nanoseconds. This is one reason small investors are not in this market; they simply don't trust it. However, there is talk that the big institutions will jump back in, possibly as soon as tomorrow when unemployment numbers are announced.
This is how crazy it was: stock of Procter & Gamble, the maker of consumer staples, and about as stable a company as there is in the U.S., plunged from $60 to below $40 in less than a minute, and then sprang back. The Dow's drop of 998.50 at the bottom was the biggest in history. One of the worst-kept secrets in the markets since 1987 is that Washington has a crisis control team that buys stock futures when markets tank. It might have been buying yesterday. Companies might have bought back their own stocks, too.
Today's loss wiped out most of the year's gains. Stocks are now up about 1% this year, and around 70% since the lows of March 2009. However, this has been based on liquidity. Stocks, bonds, and commodities have all gone up as the Federal Reserve has loaned money to the big banks at 0% to 0.25%. This gain has not been based much on an improving economy. If the euro zone countries continue to suffer and the euro plunges against the dollar, the pressure on markets could continue. But if markets will be manipulated in the high-frequency trading, there could be a major recovery.