Wall Street dodged a bullet today that easily could have killed off the bull market.
The bull escaped -- but not without injury -- as the Dow Jones industrial average fell 61 points to 10,157.71. The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index lost 30 points, falling to 1,932.19. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index gave back almost 8 points, closing at 1,152.12.
Only a barrage of buying in the final half hour of trading saved the market from the embarrassment of making Thursday's 206 point gain by the Dow -- its biggest in two years -- look like a sucker rally that set up investors for another big loss.
As it was, the markets managed to end the week with gains. The Dow closed 70 points higher, the S&P was up 10 points for the week and the Nasdaq composite gained 24 points.
Still today's trading was so erratic that it reinforced rather than alleviated investors' worries about the unstable market. The Dow has moved more than 100 points five times in the last 10 days. It very nearly had a triple-digit day again today, trading down 150 points at its low.
Stocks had opened slightly lower, but around mid day went into a nosedive that threatened to turn into a disaster. The day was saved -- at least saved from a more serious loss -- by bargain hunters. Just as on Thursday, confident traders stepped up and started buying, convinced that after falling almost 800 points in the last month and a half, stocks were too cheap to pass up.
With the market moving so much lately, Thursday's big gain produced surprisingly little celebration. There was simply too much uncertainty about stocks to break out the champagne. And after Friday's close call, traders were more likely to turn to Excedrin and Maalox than Moet & Chandon.