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Political Economy
Posted at 03:55 PM ET, 08/08/2011

Live blog: Moody’s affirms U.S.’ top credit rating

In a move that contradicts the one made by Standard & Poor’s last week, Moody’s Investors Service said today that it will allow the United States to retain its pristine AAA credit rating. 

In its report, the agency said its decision was based on the United States’s “long record of solid economic growth, and the global role of the dollar and the unmatched access to financing it provides.”

While Moody’s kept America’s rating intact, it did assign the nation an outlook of “negative.”

3:55 p.m. Gold prices surge to record

Gold prices soared to a record high Monday of more than $1,700 an ounce. This pattern is not surprising, as investors often park their money in relatively safe assets like gold when the markets are in a state of unpredictability or decline.

The Associated Press reports :

“Gold has nearly doubled in price since the start of 2009, and its climb accelerated this summer. Still, adjusted for inflation, an ounce of gold remains below its 1980 peak of $850, which translates into about $2,400 in today’s dollars.”

3:18 p.m.: Will the Fed take action?

According to a report from Bloomberg News, some economists suggest that the Federal Reserve might act soon to boost investor confidence that has been badly shaken by the S&P’s downgrade of the United States’ credit rating. Bloomberg reports that the Fed could extend its pledge to continue monetary stimulus.

“The Fed could do so by making a commitment to hold its $2.87 trillion balance sheet steady for an extended period,” Jeannine Aversa writes. “The Fed also may replace shorter-term securities with longer maturities to reduce rates on longer-term debt.”

3:05 p.m.: VIX rises

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, better known as the VIX, edged over 46 for the first time since May 2010, Bloomberg news reported. The VIX is a measure of investors’ sentiment that tracks how much they expect stocks to fluctuate. For a deeper understanding of the volatility index, check out this piece from the height of the 2008 financial crisis by Post staff writer Renae Merle.

2:59 p.m. Bank of America speaks

Bank of America’s stock, down nearly 18 percent to $6.72 shortly before 3 p.m, had tumbled enough for the banking giant to speak out.

A spokesperson for Bank of America said the company has the “right team and right management” in place, CNBC reported. The spokesperson also denied rumors that the company would need to raise capital, CNBC said.

2:52 p.m.: 99 percent of S&P components now in the red

It’s becoming a contest to see who will have a worse day today: the Dow Jones or the S&P 500. Shortly after the Dow Jones loss topped out at 605 points (about 5.3 percent), the S&P 500 extended its losses to about 68 points, or 5.7 percent.

Ninety-nine percent of the 500 components in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index are down, CNBC reported. Not surprisingly, a lot of hedge funds are having a terrible day, CNBC’s Kate Kelly reported, without naming specific names of hedge funds.

“If you have a long position today, you are probably taking so me major losses in U.S. equities,” Kelly said.

Gold, now at $1,716 per troy ounce, is on track for its biggest-ever one-day gain, CNBC reported. And it could go higher: J.P. Morgan Chase is predicting that gold could soar as high as $2,500 per troy ounce, CNBC reported. If it goes anywhere near that level, it would mark its all-time highest level, even when adjusted for inflation since its 1980 high of $851 per troy ounce.

2:30 p.m.: Dow plummets more than 600 points

The Dow Jones industrial average’s free-fall topped 605 points, or about 5.3 percent, with all 30 components trading lower.

The decrease puts the Dow on track for its worst day since February 2009, CBNC reported.

Alcoa, Caterpillar, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase are the biggest losers in the Dow Jones index.

Financial stocks generally continue to lead the U.S. markets lower, with Bank of America down 20 percent, Citigroup down 17 percent, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase down about 9 percent and Morgan Stanley down 14 percent.

And as stocks tumble lower, gold continues to soar: Spot prices of gold hit $1,719 per troy ounce, or up more than 3.3 percent from Friday’s close.

That’s another all-time high for the precious metal in nominal terms. But gold is now also less than $100 away from the all-time high it reached in $851 per troy ounce in January 1980, when inflation is taken into account.

To put a period on it all, the VIX, an index of market volatility known commonly as the “fear index,” spiked to more than 42 points — that’s nearly twice its average daily level this year and officially crowns today as the most volatile trading day of the year.

2:15 p.m.: President Obama reflects on loss of lives in Afghanistan

Shortly after 2 p.m., President Obama switched to discussing the deaths of 30 soldiers in Afghanistan over the weekend, which marked the worst loss of U.S. lives there since the beginning of the war on terror 10 years ago.

“These men and women put their lives on the line for the values that bind us together as a nation,” President Obama said, lamenting their loss and vowing to continue the fight. “We will press on and we will succeed, but now is also a time to reflect on the ones we lost,” he said.

The president finished his remarks about 2:03 p.m. without taking questions and moved off the podium. As the president spoke, the Dow Jones broke below the 11,000 level but rebounded to 11,015, down about 3.8 percent for the day. The Standard & Poor’s 500 was down about 58 points at the end of his speech, or about 4.8 percent, and the Nasdaq was down 123 points, or about 4.8 percent.

As one of the anchors on CNBC put it, “the president’s speech did nothing” to calm the markets.

2:06 p.m: President Obama speaks

President Obama began his speech shortly before 2 p.m., saying at the outset that “we didn’t need a ratings agency to say the gridlock in Washington over the last several months has not been constructive.” But despite the gridlock, “investors agree that U.S. credit is solid,” he said.

He then gave the markets a silver lining in the downgrade: “Here is the good news: Our problems are imminently solvable and we know what we have to do to solve them.” Washington knows it needs to cut the deficit, he said.

He then took a dig at Republicans, saying that the big obstacle to making progress is “the insistence on drawing lines in the sand” and putting party ideology over what’s good for the country.

The super committee created by last week’s debt deal will have the president’s “full cooperation” in the coming months, Obama said, and “we will stay on it until we get the job done.”

“Markets will rise and fall, but this is the United States of America, and no matter what some agency may say, we always have been and always will be a AAA country,” he said.

1:57 p.m.: Waiting for the President

President Obama is scheduled to speak shortly on the Standard & Poor’s credit downgrade. A quick check on the markets prior to his speech: The Dow is down 430 points, or about 3.8 percent; the Standard & Poor’s is down 56 points, or about 4.6 percent, and the Nasdaq is down 119 points, or about 4.7 percent.

Waiting for the speech, some traders seemed pessimistic about whether the speech would bring respite to the market: “Every time we heard form the White House, it was a signal to sell,” one trader told CNBC right before the speech.

1:51 p.m.: Financials drop heavily

Today’s market sell-off is heavily driven by the financial services sector, where major banks, including Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and Bank of America are suffering heavy losses: 10 percent, 12 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

Bank of America’s drop in particular is attracting attention. It came on the heels of bailed-out insurer AIG filing a $10 billion lawsuit against the bank for mortgage securities fraud. But even with such a large lawsuit in the headlines, some analysts couldn’t see a reason for such a large decline in the stock, given that litigation concerns were already priced into its value.

“I’m hard-pressed to tell you what’s the fact that’s new that’s causing this market reaction,” Jeffery Harte, principal at investment bank Sandler O’Neill, told CNBC. The stock was at $6.79 as of 1:42 p.m.

“It does look as though the stock is trading a lot as if people have gone back to the 2008 playbook,” he added referencing to the declines of investment banks Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers prior to their demise.

1:18 p.m: Markets plummet, flight to safe investments continues

Investors continued their flight to safe investments in the early afternoon, sending gold prices past $1,715 per troy ounce, where they had been earlier in the day, to $1,719.

The dollar also continued to weaken against safe-haven currencies, the yen and the Swiss franc, moving down 1 percent against the yen to 77.6 and nearly 2 percent against the franc to 0.75.

The weakening marked yet another record-high for the Swiss franc against the dollar, CNBC reported. Gold is also now past its all-time nominal highs and may even be oversold, analysts said on CNBC.

Meanwhile, stock markets refused to pare back any of their losses. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 303 points shortly before 1 p.m. to 11,141 putting it down 2.65 percent so far for the day. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was down 45 points to 1156, down about 3.7 percent. The Nasdaq was hit hardest, down about 3.9 percent, or 97 points to 2435.

The Dow is now off to its worst August start since 1896, CNBC reported. And tech stocks continue to be hit hard, with stocks of Amazon and Google down about 13 percent and Apple down 11 percent.

More than 600 stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange hit new 52-week lows since March 6, CNBC reported. The declines reflect very heavy selling, which came after a week already filled with heavy selling.

Bank of America was hit particularly hard, down nearly 16 percent to $6.87 per share — just 5 cents above its 52-week low, after Mike Mayo, a well-known stock analyst, downgraded the stock from an outperform to an underperform.

A bright spot: Procter & Gamble, the consumer products giant, was up 0.94 percent to $61.16, a reflection of investor flight to defensive stocks such as consumer staples.

The declines come shortly before a presidential address at 1:30 p.m., during which President Obama will address the U.S. credit downgrade Friday night by ratings agency Standard & Poor’s. Markets will be watching closely to see whether anything he says helps stem the market’s bleeding.

By Cezary Podkul and  |  03:55 PM ET, 08/08/2011

 
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