Market watchers don't see replay of Black Monday

November 17, 1991|By Valerie Reitman and Barbara Demick | Valerie Reitman and Barbara Demick,Knight-Ridder News Service

It's a time for brokers to cross their fingers and hold their breath.

While Friday's 120.31-point stock market plunge triggered a nervous "deja vu" to the crash of 1987, many experts said yesterday that it was unlikely a similar meltdown would occur tomorrow.

Though a few market watchers feared the worst, most pointed to differences in the economy, new safeguards in the market and the belief that a "correction" was just what the exchange needed lately.

"I don't know if you can make any more of this than just a big sneeze," said Al Stafford, vice president of sales at Smith Barney Harris Upham & Co. in Charlotte, N.C.

"The Black Monday question is in the back of everybody's mind," said Hugh Johnson, chief economist and market analyst for First Albany Corp. "But I for one don't expect it."

Mr. Johnson added, "I am expecting -- or else just hoping and crossing my fingers -- that the market will bounce back on Monday."

Many investors were sitting tight yesterday, waiting to see what happens before putting in any buy or sell orders.

Fidelity Investments, the Boston mutual-fund vendor, added 100 people to its round-the-clock weekend telephone staff in anticipation of a flooded switchboard yesterday. But the torrent never materialized.

"Most people are waiting it out," said Fidelity spokeswoman Tracey Gordon. "Most mutual-fund owners realize that if they buy or sell a mutual fund over the weekend, they would get the closing price on Monday, not the opening price."

Two Philadelphia brokers said the panic that reigned late Friday had given way to calm as investors waited to see what tomorrow brings.

On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average of 30 leading companies -- the stock market's main barometer -- plummeted 120.31, or 3.9 percent, to 2,943.20, the biggest drop since the 190-point "mini-crash" of Oct. 13, 1989.

President Bush tried to bolster Americans' shaky confidence with soothing words.

Asked yesterday about the market plunge as he was playing golf near Camp David, Mr. Bush said: "We'll see what happens Monday. No reason to get all concerned." The president said he believed the economic fundamentals supporting the market were all right.

The latest plunge occurred as thousands of investors put in "sell" orders, which outnumbered "buy" orders by a ratio of 7-1.

The 1987 crash had begun on a Friday. A 108-point plunge on Oct. 16, 1987, gave way to a terrifying 508-point free fall the next Monday.

"It's a little disconcerting," said Jack Conlon, director of the equities division of Rothschild Inc. "The eerie similarities will make a lot of people nervous over the weekend."

In just two hours of trading before Friday's closing bell, the total value of stocks fell by $132.5 billion, leading to the fifth-worst market decline, measured in points on the Dow industrial average, for any single day in market history.

But several underlying conditions are different from those that led to Black Monday.

Interest rates have been falling rather than rising, as they were in 1987. That makes investments such as CDs and money-market funds a less attractive place for investors to go if they want to sell their stocks.

And the dollar hasn't suffered the sharp erosion against foreign currencies that had taken place four years ago. On the weekend before Black Monday, then-Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III sent shivers through the market when he threatened a big drop in the value of the dollar if West Germany boosted interest rates.

Furthermore, trading this time was relatively light, given the size of the drop in the Dow -- suggesting that the stocks' plunge was more a matter of buyers' staying away than sellers' flooding the market.

Many experts said Friday's "market correction" was warranted since the lackluster earnings of many companies don't support the relatively high prices of their stocks.

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