Updated from 1:13 p.m. EST
SAN FRANCISCO -- Remember that distant memory of a week ago when tech stocks finished off a five-day rally of 10%, putting the awfulness of late November lows safely into the time capsule?
It was fun while it lasted.
On Wednesday, with the
reeling by 3%, investors were forced to consider whether that confidence-inspiring high set on Jan. 6 may now instead stand for weeks -- or months -- to come.
The tech index is off 10% since its high on Jan. 6 -- goodbye, Santa Claus rally.
The early morning news flow didn't help, with an almost pre-ordained triplet of items that reminded traders that the main headwinds to a long-term upturn in stocks are still with us: 1) banks are not "back," and a return to stable liquidity isn't imminent; 2) consumers, whacked with declining home values and job losses, are pulling back; and 3) companies with precarious balance sheets will be hanging on for dear life.
took care of the first item, announcing that it expected to
post a loss
of 4.8 billion euros, or $6.4 billion, in the fourth quarter, due largely to charges related to cutting exposure to certain credit markets. The bank also said it slashed its dividend to boost its so-called Tier 1 capital ratio.
With that news weighing on shares in Europe and keeping premarket prices in the U.S. in check, the government announced that December retail sales fell 2.7% from a year ago (3.1% excluding auto sales), well below consensus analyst expectations for sales to drop only 1.2%.
For good measure, two consumer-related companies,
warned the Street that their latest quarterly results would miss estimates.
said U.S. holiday-period same-store sales fell 30% from a year ago, bringing into serious question whether all of the company's 86 stores in its Americas region will survive 2009.
Last (and perhaps, least) was the news by
( NT) that it filed for
. This development probably will not be listed in year-end Surprises of 2009 stories, as the company, which was one of the giants of tech as the decade started, had been struggling for years.
But Nortel was still out there doing business (as it still intends to do), and adding to the hard times also does so for companies with which it does business. Shares of
, for example, were off 11% Wednesday after the company said it had been working on a risk mitigation plan for months related to its business with Nortel.
Unsurprisingly, the Nasdaq most-actives list was a sea of red, with no distinctions between stocks that are supposedly "good" or "bad."
was down 7% after being slapped with a sell rating by investment bank Collins Stewart, which rightfully posed the brain-teaser of why a stock should have risen nearly 30% from recent lows when its growth profile has fallen.
( PALM), the darling of last week's
after eliciting oohs and aahs for its upcoming
, fell more than 15% as investors may now be wondering in what sort of consumer landscape the Pre will arrive.
, lauded for eliminating uncertainty by
naming a new CEO
, was in danger of closing below $12 for the first time since Dec. 30, with shares hovering around $12.41 in afternoon trading.
But the daily charts were no better for more traditionally favored stocks like
, all of which face realities of sluggish spending by corporate IT customers and consumers, as well as profit margin squeezes.
For many of these stocks, Wednesday's selloff returns them to the no man's land between the Santa Claus rally high of Jan. 6 and the low of Nov. 21. What will be interesting to see over the next couple of weeks, amid all of the earnings reports and profit warnings, is whether investors again step in to snap up what they finally consider bargains, or whether expectations regarding the near-term upside in stocks have been lowered.