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First-Quarter Mutual Funds Report

As Dow 11,000 Fades Further, Inflation Colors Assessments

By Ben White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page F01

NEW YORK -- On June 7, 2001, President Bush signed into law the biggest tax cut in a generation. Britons went to the polls to pick Tony Blair as their prime minister for the next five years. And the Dow Jones industrial average closed at 11,090.74.

The blue chip index hasn't closed above 11,000 since.

Traders sweat it out at the New York Stock Exchange Thursday. The stock market took a beating in the first quarter. (John Marshall Mantel -- AP)

_____1st Quarter Scorecard_____
Research your mutual funds' performance for the first quarter of 2005:
Biggest Funds
Best Performing Funds
Worst Performing
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_____Mutual Funds Report_____
Raining Dogs (The Washington Post, Apr 3, 2005)
Waiting for Greenspan (The Washington Post, Apr 3, 2005)
Sector ETFs Allow Investing in Trends (The Washington Post, Apr 3, 2005)
_____Funds Q&A_____
Transcript: Washington Post reporter Ben White was online to answer questions about how inflation worries are influencing stock and mutual-fund performance.

The first quarter of this year seemed like the moment the Dow would finally break through. After a sluggish start, the index began to climb in February, driven by good economic news and confidence that the Federal Reserve would keep inflation down and interest rates rising slowly.

On Friday March 4, the Dow closed at 10,940.55. The stage was set.

But then oil prices spiked again, interest rates began to climb more quickly and investors got spooked. Outside the energy sector, stocks spent the rest of March sinking.

Now Dow 11,000 once again seems like a distant horizon, especially after Friday's dismal 99.46-point drop left the index of 30 big industrial companies at 10,404.30.

Of course, big numbers like 11,000 are arbitrary benchmarks that get crossed and recrossed multiple times. But even green eyeshade analysts acknowledge that such numbers can be important psychological milestones and offer insight into the larger mood of the market.

"These big, round numbers have almost no fundamental significance," said David Dietze, president and chief investment strategist at Point View Financial Services Inc. in Summit, N.J. "They don't affect what's happening on Main Street."

But, Dietz added, "from a psychological perspective I do think they have a bearing on investor sentiment. When a big number is passed, investors feel good about things and want to push it even further. But when an attempt to pass a big number is turned back, you've got a situation where there is a lot of frustration and negativity on the part of investors."

Frustration and negativity are probably good words to describe what a lot of people are feeling these days as they rip open their quarterly mutual fund, 401(k) and brokerage account statements.

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