Some, fearing escalation in the Balkans, sold. Others, sensing that things were contained, that nothing untoward would happen over the weekend, chose to buy. Many, positions already squared, did very little at all.
This was Friday on Wall Street, a session that could aptly be called lackluster -- though one would be remiss not to note it was lackluster with reason.
defiant. Reports of cracks in the
alliance. Possible spillover to Albania, Bosnia and Macedonia.
Murphy's Law, of course, hardly ever applies to anything. We imagine dismal possibilities, and they almost never come true. But only a fool wouldn't consider the risk going into the weekend.
"There's a lot of fear the Yugoslavian situation has the potential to get a little bit ugly here," said Todd Clark, head of listed trading at
in San Francisco. The sense in the market Friday was it's "better to be flat than long the market now."
In some respects, insurance is a waste of money. Your house probably isn't going to catch fire. Likewise, the insurance Wall Street took out Friday may seem, in hindsight, a waste of time. "It's interesting because the market overall over the last 12 to 18 months has been able to continue to show resilience to this kind of thing," said Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at
George K. Baum
in Kansas City, Mo. "First it was the Clinton stuff. Then it was Iraq. Now it's Kosovo. The market just seems to continue to digest it."
"If you have nothing majorly negative go on, we try to trade higher on Monday," said Clark. "Particularly if people
took chips off the table in anticipation of something ugly."
The first trades in the Treasury market will governed by how things have gone during the weekend as well. "If there were a sense of escalation in the Balkans," said Kevin Flanagan, money-market economist at
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter
, "Treasuries would be more of a flight-to-quality bid." If there's trouble, Treasury traders will also be watching for stock-market reactions -- the worse equities are hit, the higher the bonds will go.
Kosovo will remain a factor through the week, but there are things that could replace it pretty quickly in the foreground. The end of the quarter comes Wednesday, and investors will be increasingly focused on earnings. There may be some last companies to warn of shortfalls. Pity them. This is something best done earlier, and they could take more of a licking than they might otherwise.
Federal Open Market Committee
meets Tuesday and nobody expects it to change rates. "The market will like that, though," said Bill Dudley, director of U.S. economic research at
. There's some speculation, however, that the Fed will move to a tightening bias.
There are a slew of economic reports, the most important of which is the March
on Friday. That makes for an odd situation. The stock market and most European markets will be closed for Good Friday. The Treasury market will be open for a half-day of thin trading.
It does not help that the jobs report is among the hardest to forecast -- to look at economists' recent estimates is to wonder why they even bother. The March report should be on the light side -- but estimates are basically all over the place. "The problem is that during the survey week, lots of regions got hit with inclement weather," said Flanagan. "That's creating this uncertainty and divergence in estimates."