- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Trying to buck the trend, U.S. stock markets scratched out a gain Tuesday amid fresh reports that both consumer confidence and U.S. housing prices were sharply down in the midst of a global economic credit crisis.

The mixed signals came as market-watchers prepared for Tuesday afternoon’s opening session of a two-day meeting of the Federal Reserve’s board of governors in Washington.

The meeting, the last before the presidential election, is widely expected to produce another interest rate cut to spur the flagging economy, but any moves will not be announced until Wednesday.

At the closing, The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 892.37 points, up 10.9 percent, to 9,068.14. The Standard & Poor’s 500 gained 91.58 or 10.79 percent to 940.50. The Nasdaq composite index gained 143.57, or 9.53 percent to 1,649.47.

Early in the trading day on Wall Street, the Dow was up as much as 331 points, or nearly 3.5 percent.

Stock gains were much higher overseas, as buyers flooded back into markets after Monday’s sharp declines.

Japan’s Nikkei stock average was up 6.41 percent, and the Hong Kong Kang Seng index registered its biggest jump since 1997, rising 14.4 percent.

In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 was up a more modest 3.33 percent, Germany’s DAX index gained 8.39 percent, and the French market’s CAC-40 was up 2.56 percent.

The gains came despite a report Tuesday that the leading index of consumer confidence reached an all-time low in October, according to the Conference Board.

The index plunged from 61.4 in September to 38 in October — the biggest monthly drop in the survey’s history. The index is compared to the benchmark year of 1985, when it was set at 100, and the index stretches back to 1967.

“The impact of the financial crisis over the last several weeks clearly has taken a toll on consumers’ confidence,” said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center in a statement.

“Looking ahead, consumer are extremely pessimistic, and a significantly larger proportion than last month foresees business and labor market conditions worsening,” she said.

Separately, the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index in a new survey found that home prices in 20 key urban markets plunged 16.6 percent in August compared to August 2007, with depressed markets in Phoenix and Las Vegas falling by nearly twice that rate. It was the biggest annual loss in U.S. housing values since the survey was first conducted in 2000.

The smaller, 10-city index, fell 17.7 percent, the biggest decline in 21 years.

“The downturn in residential real estate prices continued with very few bright spots in the data,” said survey lead researcher David M. Blitzer in a statement.

Some analysts said plunging home values may produce new activity in the depressed residential real estate market. The Commerce Department and the National Association of Realtors both have reported that home-sale activity picked up in September.

The White House Tuesday confirmed it was considering new government help for the beleaguered auto industry, which has hurt by the declining general economy and by a credit crunch that has slammed both dealers and potential customers alike. Congress earlier this month approved a $25 billion taxpayer-funded loan program to U.S. automakers for plant modernization alongside the $700 billion Wall Street rescue package.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the administration is working “as quickly as possible” to implement the car industry loan. She said the giant finance arms of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler may also be eligible for aid under the $700 billion Treasury Department program.

“So the automakers have been in contact with us,” Mrs. Perino said, “and we’re trying to work with the tools that Congress has provided us.”

But the government’s wide-ranging efforts to prop up the nation’s banks and credit markets is not cost-free, Anthony Ryan, acting Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance, acknowledged Tuesday.

The current forecast of a record $482 billion for the fiscal year that began October 1 will have to be revised upward in the face of the massive rescue packages and loan programs now in the works, he said.

“This year’s financing needs will be unprecedented,” Mr. Ryan said in remarks to the annual meeting of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association in New York.

He added, “The potential for deterioration in economic conditions given the contraction in credit may also affect budget conditions this year.”

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