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Pain and Disappointment. Agony and Frustration. Fear and Loathing.

Like uninvited dinner guests, those "couples" keep showing up at Wall Street's door. So it was again this week, which saw the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

fall 0.5%, the

S&P 500

lose 1.9%, and the

Nasdaq Composite

decline a whopping 8.5%.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the decline is the market's continued ability to confound those who have repeatedly said the end of the selling is nigh.

"To try and call the bottom in the last six weeks has been about as foolish as calling the top in the first quarter," said Scott Bleier, chief investment strategist at

Prime Charter

, who resisted any temptation to do so on Friday. "The market is back to its old ways of confusing most of the people most of the time."

Bleier, who readily admitted his

prediction the markets would rally in September was wrong, harped on the theme of the current environment being a mirror image of the heady days of late 1999 and early 2000.

"The fear in the Nasdaq investor is approaching the level of greed in the first quarter," he said. "The Comp would have to go to zero to get the equivalent, but I don't think we need that. The fear is thick

after six weeks of devastation."

Failed rallies followed by unrelenting selling acted like cornstarch in gravy, thickening that fear as the week progressed. The anxiety came to a boil on Friday as the Comp fell 3.2% while the S&P declined 1.9% and the Dow lost 1.2%.

No Shelter Here

Fittingly, the week got off on a downbeat Monday, particularly for tech stocks. Traditional leaders such as



slid to new 52-week lows while newer favorites such as




Siebel Systems


showed the first signs of susceptibility to recent trends.

Meanwhile, the Dow posted a modest gain while the S&P 500 finished near break-even behind strength in financials, drugmakers, industrials and old tech stalwart




The pattern of big-tech losses and modest blue-chip gains resumed Tuesday as the Comp fell 3.2% while the Dow rose 0.2%.

The Dow, however, closed well off its intraday highs after the

Federal Reserve issued a statement declaring inflation risks remain most disconcerting. The Fed left monetary policy unchanged, a near foregone conclusion, but some investors had hoped the central bank would adopt a symmetric bias. The absence of such a change prompted heavy selling.

Among individual names,






were lowlights Tuesday, hurt by rumors of pending earning shortfalls.

Meanwhile, former highfliers such as

Commerce One



i2 Technologies


suffered sharp losses, while once woe-begotten blue-chips such as






enjoyed solid gains.

"This is the kind of action that depresses people," Tony Cecin, managing director of Nasdaq trading at

U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray

acknowledged mid-week.

Cecin expressed hope the rising pessimism would facilitate an end to the downturn, but admitted to "not seeing any event that's going to turn the market around."

A turnaround did occur Wednesday amid talk many big-cap tech stocks had reached bargain levels. But hopes for a sustained rebound were dashed after the close when



joined the long list of tech bellwethers to warn of disappointing results.

The reaction Thursday to Dell's warning wasn't as horrendous as some feared. But a separate warning by

Knight Trading Group


, the announcement of the closure of grocery and gasoline operations by


, and a negative reaction to strong earnings from



reminded investors of the folly of placing too much emphasis on Wednesday's bounce.

Thursday's downturn proved a mere appetizer to the main course of selling to come on Friday. More profit warnings late Thursday plus a stronger-than-expected

employment report

early Friday paved the way for the big drop.

Markets were further roiled Friday by

rumors of Wall Street firms suffering heavy losses in the junk bond market. Much of the rumor mongering focused on

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter


, which lost 8.4%.

Meanwhile, heavy losses continued to mount among erstwhile tech favorites such as

Veeco Instruments



Sycamore Networks



The declines Friday left some hoping the much-anticipated capitulation was at hand. Others wondered if the session wasn't a prelude to another "Black Monday," although that scenario is complicated by the concurrent Yom Kippur and Columbus Day holidays.

Ned Collins, executive vice president of U.S. stocks at

Daiwa Securities America

, offered another alternative.

The recent action "reminds me of the markets of the 1970s when it was just Chinese water torture," Collins said.

Having been on the Street since those days, the trader commented -- as have many others -- that what's happening now is merely the comeuppance for the excesses of recent years.

"You cannot have 25% returns on the stock market indefinitely," he said. "For 100 years, the average return has been 8%. We've averaged over 20% for the past three years. So that would mean you're going to have to give back something. This could be the start of it."

And we all know what paybacks are like, as the past week demonstrated once again.

Aaron L. Task writes daily for In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to

Aaron L. Task.