Angst Returns to Wall St.: Stocks Dive, Oil Soars

NEW YORK - After a brief spell of elation, angst has returned to Wall Street.

Financial markets' initial relief over a $700 billion U.S. government bailout plan has given way to concerns the rescue package may cost too much, drive up inflation, swell the already-bloated deficit and hurt the ailing economy.

On Monday, investors sold off stocks, sent oil prices to their biggest one-day gain and dumped the dollar.

The Dow Jones industrials lost 372 points, wiping out the gains the index made Friday after administration officials and congressional leaders promised swift action to get bad debt off the books of banks and end the financial crisis.

"Investors had a weekend to look at the news that was streaming out, and they are now finding fault in it," said Joseph Battipaglia, market strategist in the private client group at the investment firm Stifel Nicholaus.

Oil prices briefly spiked more than $25 a barrel before falling back to settle at $120.92, up $16.37, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That shattered the previous record for a one-day jump in crude oil, $10.75.

Monday was also the last day for investors to trade the October oil futures contract, adding fuel to the rally. But the November contract also saw a sharp gain, up $6.62 to $109.37.

Markets appeared to calm somewhat overnight. In Asia, oil prices dipped below $109 a barrel Tuesday, while regional stock markets were mixed. Futures in the Dow industrials and Standard & Poor's 500, meanwhile, inched higher.

Reacting to Monday's volatile oil trading, the government agency that regulates commodities markets said it was working with Nymex to "ensure that no one is taking advantage of the current stresses facing our financial marketplace for their own manipulative gain."

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission said in a statement it was "closely monitoring today's large movement in the price of crude oil."

Analysts said some of the gain could have come from large investors trying to cover short positions, or bets that prices would fall.

Four days after word of a massive government rescue plan began to hit the market, investors had little by way of details. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson introduced the plan Saturday in a document that ran less than three full pages.

By Monday, investors still knew little about how the Bush administration would pay for mopping up the bad debt, how the process would work, who would run it and what the Democratic-controlled Congress would ask for to approve the plan.

The Bush administration is already forecasting that the federal deficit will hit a record $482 billion next year. Analysts say the bailout costs mean a $1 trillion annual deficit is not out of the question.

"When you try to print $1 trillion, that will kill your currency, lifting oil prices, which then in turn will not help the stock market," said Gary Kaltbaum, who runs the money management firm Kaltbaum and Associates in Orlando, Fla. "It is a vicious cycle, and we are seeing that right now."

Lacking specifics, many investors — especially foreigners — sold U.S. dollars on worries that paying for the plan would increase the federal deficit and exacerbate inflation. Over the past year, overall inflation is at 5.4 percent.

The 15-nation euro rocketed past $1.48 in late afternoon trading Monday, up more than 3 cents from Friday. The British pound leaped to $1.8584 from $1.8365, and the dollar dropped to 105.40 Japanese yen from 107.01.

The price of gold, a traditional safe-haven investment in times of financial turmoil, rose $40.30 to settle at $909 an ounce.

The Dow finished at 11,015.69, down 372.75 points, more than 3 percent. The sharp drop was reminiscent of last week's wild trading, which included two days of 400-plus-point drops for the Dow and two days of 300-plus-point increases.

Credit markets, the lifeblood of the economy, loosened a bit. They had seized up last week when Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection and the government rescued giant insurer American International Group Inc. with an $85 billion, two-year loan.

Late Sunday, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the country's last two major independent investment banks, were granted government permission to change their status to bank holding companies and open commercial banking subsidiaries.

As Wall Street sold off, Washington was tinkering with the plan, trying to find a compromise that Congress and the Bush administration could present to American taxpayers who would be footing the bill.

"The whole world is watching," President Bush said, prodding Congress to quickly pass the plan.

By the time markets closed Monday, the Bush administration and leading lawmakers had agreed to tack mortgage help for homeowners and strong congressional oversight on to the legislation, said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

Even assuming it passes, the bailout might not be a quick fix for the economy or financial markets.

According to research by economists at Merrill Lynch, after the Resolution Trust Corp. was established in 1989 to stop the savings and loan crisis, it took a year for the stock market to hit bottom, two years for the economy and three years for the housing market.

After Japan put a bailout plan in place, its stock market took another five years to recuperate, and by some measures, its economy still hasn't had a sustainable recovery, according to Merrill's chief North American economist, David Rosenberg.

"This is a complicated process that will encumber the economy for many years," Battipaglia said.


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