Skip to main content

Investors Shaken by a Brutal End to a Volatile Week

The simultaneous drop across sectors has rattled even the most stalwart.

Updated from 5:24 PM ET.

It was, investors agreed, quite a party. The stock market's dips and wild gyrations -- call them buying opportunities -- were all part of the fun.

But investors seemed downright hung over Friday, both listless and panicked, as the


composite plunged 355.61, or 9.7%, to close at 3321.17, and the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

dropped 616.23, or 5.6%, to 10,307.32.

Stock prices may or may not have found a bottom, but the spirits of average investors and some fund managers were low.

"It's a bear market," said Donovan Chambers, a commission analyst for

Chase Manhattan Bank

, who spent part of his afternoon in the lobby of a

Charles Schwab

office on Wall Street. Around him, investors hurriedly checked their accounts under the glow of cable television screens carrying breathless commentary under the headline "Rock Bottom?"

"People's confidence is shattered," Chambers said. "People are unsure which direction to take."

It showed in the markets. The Nasdaq's negative close marked the first five-day trading week that it has closed down every day since Sept. 19-23, 1994, when it lost a total of 20.45 points, or 2.6% of its value. The Nasdaq fell more than 25% this week alone.

Taken alone, the plunge was frightful, but what worried some investors was the simultaneous fall across sectors and indices. Earlier this week, large-cap technology stocks had fared decently despite the Nasdaq's woes, and the Dow and Nasdaq had taken turns rising and falling.

On Broadway near Wall Street, Ed Laskowski, a branch manager for

Fidelity Investments

, hurriedly sized up the 18 customers rushing about his lobby. He ascribed the mood to tax deadline, saying customers were making adjustments to their Individual Retirement Accounts.

Leaving the Fidelity office, Marcus Arm, a 29-year-old who maintained a technology-heavy portfolio last year and who described his business as "Internet erotica," said the April 15 tax deadline was forcing him to sell his holdings at low prices.

"I have massive capital gains taxes," Arm said. "I know I'm not the only one who made a lot of money in the market last year and is paying the price now."

On the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, "there's a lot of panic selling," said one worker who asked that his name not be used because he feared he would lose his job. The worker described his job as that of a "trouble shooter" who fixes trades made at incorrect prices. Because of the hectic environment Friday, "Monday's going to be a trying day," he said.

After the markets closed, traders and specialists who work on the floor of the

New York Stock Exchange

hurriedly brushed past television cameras as the country turned its eye to the spectacle of the markets. One worker poked fun at the intense search for answers surrounding an event that was, at its heart, quite simple.

"There were more sellers than buyers," he said repeatedly.

One trader from

SLL Securities

, who works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, said sentiment on the floor was so negative that the chance of a reversal on Monday is slim.

"It feels like '87 felt," said the trader, referring to the sharp drop of October 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial Averaged plunged 508 points to 1,738. "It could be a real fun market on Monday," he added sarcastically.

Other New York Stock Exchange workers tried to keep a stiff upper lip. One young man who identified himself as a specialist quickly rushed by television cameras, agreeing to talk about the market action only after he had boarded his subway train.

"It's a good time to buy," he offered. "It could turn around on Monday." The man would not give his name or the name of his employer.

The number of calls to customer service representatives at Fidelity Investments was exceptionally high Friday, but only slightly higher than expected during the always busy tax season, according to Jessica Catino, spokeswoman for the fund manager. Call volume increased as the day wore on. During the past two weeks, investors have added to their equity investment portfolios, but that trend reversed this week, she said.

Rowena Itchon, spokeswoman for

RS Investments

, said the company's


Internet Age Fund hit $200 million this week, down from $250 million last week. Most of that drop was a result of the market's performance (the fund is down 19% so far this year), but investors also withdrew their money this week.


(RSEGX) - Get Free Report

RS Emerging Growth fund, the company's flagship, had a positive injection of cash from investors this week, though that could be because the fund is about to close. That fund is down 8.01% this year.

"Most of it is due to people parking their money in money market funds," Itchon said. "When the markets start to stabilize, they'll put that money to work."

Chambers, the commission analyst, seemed less sure.

"No matter how attractive the price, nobody has any money to buy," he said, noting that margin calls have hurt investors who bought stock with borrowed money. "People with buying power are the ones who bought five years ago. And they've sold."

Jennifer Friedlin, a reporter for joint newsroom, contributed to this report.