Wall Street's hemorrhaging may not be over, much to the chagrin of investors who have watched stock prices plummet for nine straight weeks.
Even after the 390-point plunge Friday that took the Dow Jones industrials to their lowest close in nearly four years, many analysts said a brief bounce higher on bargain hunting is the best the market is likely to get _ and more losses today were still a strong possibility.
"There is a total lack of conviction in this marketplace, so we are going to remain weak and there is considerable risk for more selling," said Robert Froehlich, chief investment strategist for Deutsche Asset Management. "This is about emotion _ the lack of confidence around accounting issues and corporate governance."
Indeed, investor confidence, already battered after two years of losses in the market, shows no signs of improvement. Instead, analysts say investors have grown more disillusioned by the spate of accounting and corporate ethics scandals at companies ranging from Enron Corp. to WorldCom Inc.
The market's sharp selloffs have brought the major stock gauges to below their post-Sept. 11 lows, and only increased investors' sense of helplessness.
As a result, many would-be buyers are no longer willing to take any chances and are avoiding stocks and mutual funds. Others are selling, and shifting their money to investments perceived as less risky, such as cash savings accounts or bonds.
"It's time to diversify and go into something safer," said Steve Hinkle, 50, a chemist in Bristol, Penn., who has stopped buying stocks out of concern more declines are ahead. "I don't think we're bottomed out yet. I think we're still in for a long ride down."
Equity mutual funds lost $11.4-billion during the week ending July 17, the largest outflow this year, according to AMG Data Services. And a third of those surveyed in a CNN-Time poll released Sunday indicated recent declines in the stock market have caused them to consider delaying retirement.
A rebound was possible today simply because of the magnitude of the market's losses this past week _ 665 points on the Dow, 54 points on the Nasdaq composite index and 73 points on the Standard & Poor's index. But a few analysts doubt it would last because the prospects for more bad news are significant. Late Sunday, embattled telecommunications company WorldCom filed for bankruptcy _ a move likely to further rattle the markets.
"We have more earnings reports coming out, and there's not a lot of optimism," said Bryan Piskorowski, market commentator at Prudential Securities. "Even though the market is very, very oversold here, there's not really a lot of reasons to buy."
Indeed, the second-quarter earnings reports that have come out so far this month have given investors few reasons to believe an upturn will come anytime soon. Bellwether technology company Intel reported weaker-than-expected results this past week, while announcing more job cuts. Other companies issuing disappointing results included Caterpillar, Siebel Systems and Baxter International. More earnings reports were expected this week, including American Express and Texas Instruments.
At the same time, there have been more questions about corporate bookkeeping _ this time at AOL Time Warner and DaimlerChrysler. Many analysts expect the issue to continue to pressure the market until at least mid-August, when the SEC has asked roughly 1,000 top CEOs to certify that their financial statements are accurate. If the process goes smoothly, some analysts say that could reassure the market. Any delays, however, might trigger more declines.
In the meantime, Wall Street is doing its best to persuade investors to stay calm _ and not cash out their assets. In an appearance Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, New York Stock Exchange chairman Richard Grasso said today could be another difficult day for the markets, but told investors to remain patient.
"Please don't do something that emotionally feels good but, in the long term, will be a mistake," he said. "What I know is, over the course of the last 10 years, the market, with all of the aberrational downdrafts that we've seen, has gone up, and I believe over the next 10 years the same will be true."