Dow 6,000 or Dow 14,000? It depends on whom you ask. A week of gut-wrenching losses in the stock market ended Friday with the Dow Jones...
NEW YORK — Dow 6,000 or Dow 14,000? It depends on whom you ask.
A week of gut-wrenching losses in the stock market ended Friday with the Dow Jones industrial average falling 59.91 points to 12,099.30. That modest decline capped a four-day 678-point plunge that left Wall Street traders and everyday investors wondering if the worst was over — or yet to come.
David Tice, a well-known bear, said on Friday that the Dow would sink to 6,000 by year-end as the country slides into a recession.
But Abby Joseph Cohen, a leading bull at Goldman Sachs, maintained that the Dow would roar back to finish the year 22 percent higher, at 14,750, as the economy perks up later in the year.
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While their views diverge, both strategists agreed on one point: The wild ride is far from over. In whiplash trading, the Dow has fallen 14 percent from its peak in October. While the market has taken deeper dives in the past — it plummeted 37.8 percent from January 2000 to October 2002, for example — volatility is approaching its highest levels in several years.
Amid steep drops in the housing market, massive losses at Wall Street banks, rising energy prices and growing fears about a recession, this year is shaping up to be a tough one for the faint-of-heart.
“The R-word is really scaring investors,” said Leon Rousso, a certified financial planner in Ventura, Calif. “I’ve been holding hands and comforting people to get through this and not to panic.”
Yet some analysts warn the news could get much uglier.
Earnings forecasts “have gone down quite dramatically” this year, said Michael Thompson, a managing director at Thomson Proprietary Research.
Analysts, already bracing for a wave of weak fourth-quarter earnings, have doubled their loss estimates since the year began. They now expect S&P 500 companies to report a 20 percent drop in earnings for the final three months of 2007, down from estimates of a 10 percent decline just three weeks ago.
Earnings forecasts for the first quarter of this year are being scaled back. On Jan. 2, analysts expected 5.7 percent growth in corporate profits. By Friday, that figure had been revised down to 4.1 percent.
Forecasts have been driven down by the poor performance of financial companies, which typically generate 25 percent of overall earnings growth in the S&P 500. Analysts now expect them to contribute 1 percent. “All you’re getting is baggage with these guys,” Thompson said.
And some worry that the financial sector remains at risk for further losses.
“What could cause greater economic losses or fallout in the market would be further recognized losses or downgrades in the financial sector,” said Joe Davis, a principal and economist at mutual-fund company Vanguard Group.
Indeed, while many of the world’s largest financial institutions, including Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and UBS, have written down billions of dollars worth of securities linked to mortgages in recent weeks, some investors remain concerned that losses could grow if default levels continue to climb not only on mortgages, but also on credit-card bills and auto loans.
Making matters worse, there is a concern about the ability of companies that sell insurance for bonds, including MBIA and Ambac, to survive.
On Friday, Fitch downgraded Ambac from a triple-A credit to a double-A credit. That move could have a major ripple effect on Wall Street, because many banks and investors buy insurance from these companies to protect themselves from losses.
Moves by Congress and the Federal Reserve over the next few weeks could very well determine whether the economy slides into a full-blown recession and the markets continue to be pummeled by bad news, said Vanguard’s Davis.
“There are a lot of wild cards out there right now, including rate cuts by the Federal Reserve and what a tax-stimulus package could look like,” said Davis. “I do not think it is too late to prevent a recession, but we are at a critical juncture.”
On Friday, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 8.06 to 1,325.19, while the technology-focused Nasdaq composite index dropped 6.88 to 2,340.02.
For the week, the Dow and the Nasdaq lost 4 percent, while the S&P 500 gave up 5.4 percent. In the 13 trading sessions of 2008, the Dow has lost nearly 9 percent, while the S&P has fallen 9.75 percent and the Nasdaq nearly 12 percent.
New York Times reporter
Michael S. Grynbaum contributed
to this story.