Turbulence On Wall Street Pauses On An Upswing

The volatile week on Wall Street shows no sign of letting up. Once again, stock prices swung wildly Thursday, finishing sharply higher than where they started. But the picture was a lot less clear in the rest of the world.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS Considered. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris. And Huzzah, the bulls are back on Wall Street, at least for today. The way things have been going, yesterday's stock drop set up a big buying opportunity. The Dow, the NASDAQ, the S&P were all up at the close. In a minute, we'll check in on one of the world's biggest investment funds. But first, for the broader view, Jim Zarroli joins us now from New York. Hey there, Jim.

JIM ZARROLI: Hi, Michele.

NORRIS: Let's start with the big news. The Dow Jones industrial average was up almost 4 percent today, but we've been seeing some wild swings lately. We've all been seeing much like a rollercoaster on Wall Street. Should we take today as some sort of encouraging development?

ZARROLI: Well, I think it's another reminder of what a volatile time we're in. You know, we're seeing huge trading volume almost every day. We see triple digit swings in the Dow. I'm not sure that anyone can really completely make sense of it. I mean, I think if you want to understand what happened today, you could look at several things. First, the government said unemployment claims fell just a little below 400,000 again last week.

Also, Cisco had very good earnings. These are not the kinds of things that you would see - expect to see if the United States was entering a recession, which is what everyone has been so afraid about.

NORRIS: The picture seems to be a lot less clear in the rest of the world and there's been a lot of nervousness about the eurozone this week, France in particular. Are there signs that things might be stabilizing a bit there?

ZARROLI: Yeah, France has turned to become sort of the epicenter of the debt crisis. And it's not the French economy. Compared to the rest of Europe, France is really doing okay. It's the banks, the major French banks that are in trouble. They own a huge amount of bonds from some of the really troubled countries in Europe. Now, that wasn't a problem when the debt crisis was contained to countries like Ireland and Portugal, which are small. But some people are now getting more worried about Italy and Spain, which are bigger.

And a lot again, a lot of French banks just have exposure there, so you're hearing rumors about everything. There were rumors today that some Asian banks had cut their credit lines to French banks, which would be a very big deal. There were rumors that the rating agencies were going to downgrade French debt the way Standard & Poor's downgraded U.S. debt last week. They say they're not going to do that.

The French government, by the way, is saying the banks are in sound shape, but of course, that's you know, remind you, that's what everyone said about Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers right up to the point that they collapsed. So, you know, who do you trust?

NORRIS: Well, other than trying to reassure the markets that their banks are on solid ground, what else are European governments trying to do to gain control of the situation?

ZARROLI: Well, one thing they're doing is focusing on short selling. And short selling, as you may know, is a way of betting that a stock will fall. It's always done a lot by hedge funds. A lot of people think that short-sellers add fuel to the fire when you're in a time like this. Back in 2008, several countries, including the United States, banned short selling for a while. Now, tonight the French government says it's banning short selling of bank stocks. Some other countries say they're also going to be banning a kind of short-selling.

Whether this will make a difference, you know, is something people can debate about. But as soon as the rumors started coming out, you saw shares of a lot of European banks go up. But the point is, we're just in a wild time. And you're seeing that reflected in the financial markets.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Jim Zarroli speaking to us from New York. Thank you, Jim.

ZARROLI: You're welcome.

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