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Dow falls more than 200, interrupting 2012 rally

Stocks suffered their biggest losses in three months Tuesday, the first hiccup in a strong and steady rally to start the year. Wall Street worried about the global economy and waited while Greece pressured the last investors to sign on for its bailout.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 200 points, giving up more than a quarter of its 745-point advance since Jan. 1, the best start to a year in the U.S. market since 1998.

The sell-off, which spread west from Europe, also interrupted a period of unusual calm on Wall Street. Before Tuesday, the Dow had not fallen 100 points for 45 straight trading sessions, the longest streak since 2006.

The decline of 203.66 points was the worst for the Dow since Nov. 23 and left the average at 12,759.15. It was only last week that the Dow closed above 13,000 for the first time since May 2008, four months before the worst of the financial crisis.

“When things go straight up and don’t ever correct or have some sort of normal pullback, as an investor, that makes me nervous,” said Ed Hyland, a global investment specialist with J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

The gradual rally had been powered by optimism about the U.S. economic recovery. But investors realized that Greece’s debt problems, Europe’s economic problems and Israel’s Iran problems were still very much their problems, too.

Stocks fell sharply from the opening bell and never mounted a serious comeback. The Dow was down as much as 227 points. All but one of the 30 stocks in the average finished the day lower. Intel managed a gain of 7 cents.

All 10 industry groups in the Standard & Poor’s 500 declined. Bank stocks, which typically take a hit when there is any reason to worry about Greece, led the declines, followed by industrial and materials companies, which depend on strength in the world economy.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 20.97 points, its worst decline since Dec. 8, to 1,343.36. The S&P had not declined 1 percent or more for 45 straight trading days, also the longest streak since 2006. That year, the S&P put together 94 in a row.

The Nasdaq composite index dropped 40.16 points to 2,910.32. The Nasdaq last week broke through 3,000 for the first time since December 2000, during the collapse in dot-com stocks.

Last year, sell-offs like this were much more common. The S&P fell by at least 1 percent on 48 trading days, roughly one in every five. During the depths of the financial crisis in the last four months of 2008, it happened roughly one in every three days.

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