A wise man once
said the bear market wouldn't end until the level of fear was commensurate with the level of greed evident in the early part of 2000. After yet another day of debilitating losses for major averages, some traders were wondering, with some desperation:
Are we there yet?
Dow Jones Industrial Average
fell 3.1% to 8813.50, the Dow's first close below 9000 since Oct. 2, 2001. The
shed 3.4% to 920.47, breaking its October 1998 intraday low of 923.32 and closing at its lowest level since October 1997. The
shed 2.5% to 1346.02, just above its Oct. 8, 1998, intraday low of 1343.87 and its lowest close since May 1997.
Trading volume accelerated from
yesterday's losses with 1.8 billion shares traded on the
, where downside volume was 86% of the total. Negative breadth also increased as losers bested gainers by nearly 3 to 1 in Big Board activity and by 2 to 1 in over-the-counter activity, where 1.6 billion shares traded. Downside volume was 75% of the total in over-the-counter trading.
The latest losses came amid
huge changes to the S&P 500, which accounted for much of the Big Board's volume surge. Among names being deleted from the index was
Royal Dutch Petroleum
, which fell 9.2% on 17.5 million shares, or more than five times its 30-day average, according to Baseline.
Also weighing on sentiment -- and stoking already burning fears of corporate malfeasance -- were confirmation of a criminal probe into
and a lawsuit filed against Vice President Dick Cheney and
by watchdog group Judicial Watch. Meanwhile,
slumped another 4.8% after delaying the IPO of its Medco unit; the firm cited market conditions, but revelations about its accounting also played a role.
Investors' lack of faith in, well ... anything, these days is the complete opposite of the boom time, when investors put their faith in everything, no matter how specious. Similarly, in the late 1990s/early 2000, equity futures seemingly sold off every morning, leading to a weak opening of trading that opened the floodgate for eager dip buyers. These days, the complete opposite is occurring.
Equity futures were firm this morning, and major averages got off to a decent start, with the Dow trading as high as 9134.23, the S&P as high as 956.34 and the Comp as high as 1396.95. Then the "sell the rally" mantra took over and didn't relent much until day's end.
Brian Belski, chief fundamental strategist at U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis, said there are many other aspects of the market that are completely opposite from the late 1990s. "Value is in vogue, even sexy -- and the leading stocks in the Dow
today nobody would think about two years ago," he said. "Now we're trying to make up new valuation metrics on consumer stocks; everybody has got to own consumer discretionary names like homebuilders, saying 'it's different this time.' " (The S&P Homebuilding Index fell 3.8% today as mutual funds sold recent winners and defensive stocks to raise cash in anticipation of redemptions.)
Still, rhetoric about today being the mirror image of 1999 doesn't matter much, Belski continued. "What's the compelling reason to buy stocks?" he wondered. "The bottom line is nobody knows when the market is going to turn. I think we're almost over
with the selling, but people are not going to start investing until stocks start going up."
Like many, the strategist believes the market is "setting up for a big rebound" but fretted we haven't even started second-quarter earnings. In addition, stocks are traditionally weak in summertime, as detailed here in
early April, and the specter of the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks lies ahead.
Belski is far from a perma-bull and is, in fact, a
man of moderation. But he's still the strategist at a major brokerage firm and thus has to remain prudent when talking to reporters.
Rick Berry, on the other hand, is an independent analyst and therefore not beholden to anything. That's occasionally annoying, but he has made some prescient calls recently -- including a prediction on
May 10 that the Russell 2000 had risk to 400.
Today, as the Russell fell 2.2% to 419.78, he emailed some more bearish comments and brushed aside any talk of the bear market ending. Predicting a "waterfall effect for all averages," Berry forecast the Dow will soon see 8500, the S&P 850, the Comp 1000, and the Russell 2000 down to 375.
Notably, Dan Fitzpatrick, trader and technical analyst at Capstone Investments and a
contributor, said Berry is not alone in eyeing those targets, but suggested few others are willing to publicly offer them. "I've spoken with many money managers who have been giving similar targets on the major averages ... in private," Fitzpatrick said. "They say, 'I think the S&P goes to 800, but I'd never come out and say it. My clients would freak out.' "
mid-June, I suggested Berry's views were "extreme," even for a skeptic like me. Now I'm not so sure. In writing recently about the number of
bears who'd be caught looking for a rally, it became evident that the
expected scenario -- which the market has a way of producing -- would be for stocks to continue their late-June slide, rather than reverse, as so many have forecast.
Going back to this mirror-image theme, recall that during late 1999, many people kept saying the market couldn't go any higher, yet that's precisely what it did ... for a few months more.
Aaron L. Task writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to
Aaron L. Task.