Wary Investors Stall Market Rally

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/104196349/104196326" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

The stock market has been on a roll for the past two months, but the momentum seemed to stall over the past few days and the major indexes are expected to close down for the week. There was as much good news as bad, but many investors concluded that the rally was getting a little ahead of itself.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now a look at what's happening in the markets. Stocks mostly lost ground this week, but over the past couple of months, the stock market has made enormous gains. Here's one example. The S&P 500 index is up 31 percent in little more than nine weeks. Does that mean that the worst is over? NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: On Wall Street there are rallies and then there is the sucker's rally.

Dr. CHARLES GEISST (Financial Historian, Manhattan College): It's a rally for those who aren't too particularly sophisticated or retail investors or small institutional investors who are looking for a glimmer of hope. They think they see it and they run in and buy stuff only to find out that within a month or two afterwards they're going to lose again.

ZARROLI: That's financial historian Charles Geisst of Manhattan College. Geisst says it's not unusual in deep economic downturns for the stock market to go through false springs, when people think the rebound is at hand and bid up stock prices, only to have them fall again when reality intervenes. He says it happened several times during the Great Depression and it happened during Japan's lost decade of the 1990s. So how do we know the recent surge in stock prices is a sucker's rally?

Ms. LIZ ANN SONDERS (Chief Investment Officer, Charles Schwab): We don't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SONDERS: I mean, that's the honest answer. We don't.

ZARROLI: Liz Ann Sonders is chief investment officer at Charles Schwab. Sonders is fairly bullish about the market right now. She says you can't know for sure. But she believes the recession is probably waning. And that the recent rally has a good chance of sustaining itself. She says last year when stock prices were falling so much, a lot of big investors sold off their holdings, took the money and essentially stuffed it into their mattresses.

Ms. SONDERS: This year, with a market that in some people's minds is sort of running away from you, it's much less palatable to be sitting there holding a ton of cash, earning, you know, next to nothing.

ZARROLI: Sonders says investors have a strong incentive to keep their money in stocks because there's nowhere else to put it. Interest rates on things like Treasury bills are so low that no one can make any money on them. That could change if the economy takes another turn for the worse. But it doesn't seem to be doing that. In fact, things have stabilized, or at least they aren't declining as fast as they were.

But there are skeptics. Charles Geisst says the economy may not be declining as fast as it was, but the fundamentals are still terrible.

Mr. GEISST: There's no point in saying the stock market is looking good if the automobile industry in the doldrums. In fact, the banking industry, the finance industry, is for the most part on its knees.

ZARROLI: For the rally to endure, Geisst says, the economy has to show some real underlying strength. Housing prices have to turn around or companies have to start hiring again. And there's no sign that either of those things is even on the horizon. And Geisst says he thinks the markets are already beginning to realize that.

All of the enthusiasm of just a couple weeks ago appears to have cooled this week. The economy, he says, is bound to recover eventually. And when it does, stock prices will see lasting gains. But, he says, not for the first time the stock market has jumped the gun.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.