A hint of silver panic dominated the nation's financial markets for several hours yesterday before a wild rally -- perhaps the most extensive 45-minute recovery in Wall Street history -- produced some sighs of relief at investment firms throughout the country.
Behind the initial collapse in early afternoon was an announcement that wealthy Texan Nelson Bunker Hunt -- a heavy silver investor -- was seeking to borrow money to meet margin calls on sharply falling silver prices. In a steady downhill run, the Dow Jones average of 30 industrial blue chips plummeted 27 points, with about two-thirds of the decline taking place in about an hour, creating paper losses estimated at more than $30 billion.
Suddenly, however, the mood shifted about 3:15 p.m., and a wild buying spree brought the Dow index back to a close at 759.98 -- down just 2.14 points for the day -- although broader market indicators showed evdence of a substantial decline in stock values.
Ironically, the Dow Jones recovery was attributed in part to a strong bond market rally which itself reflected the sharp retreat in stock and commodity prices. Bond prices gained strongly, with Treasury issues -- in particular -- showing gains of more than 1 1/2 points in brisk trading because of the relatively risk-free nature of government issues. Interest rates declined substantially as evidence of recession increased and investors sought a safe haven from the volatile stock and commodity trading.
One New York trader said the subsequent rush of buy orders for blue chip stocks came when news of the bond rally and falling rates for Treasury bills spread in the investment community. The recovery of stocks from their lowest levels in more than five years came during what Laidlaw Adams & Peck's vice president Alan C. Poole called a "really scary" day.
Although the Dow Jones barometer managed to recover most of its loss during the final 45 minutes of trading yesterday, Wall Street still suffered one of its worst days on record. Other market indicators showed that stock prices fell dramatically and broadly, prompting the New York Stock Exchange surveillance committee to hold a special meeting last night.
Declines routed advancing issues on the Big Board by a 16-1 margin among 1,895 stocks traded as volume soared to 64.32 million shares -- the seventh busiest day in history -- from 37.37 million the previous day. At the American Stock Exchange, the market value index plummeted 16.23 to 215.69 for its biggest single-day decline, with only 29 issues posting gains compared with 740 declines.
Prices in the over-the-counter market also took a beating, with the National Association of Securities Dealers NASDAQ composite index off a sharp 8.13 to 124.09 and only 17 advancing issues compared with 1,851 on the downside.
The shock waves of the Hunt announcement, and the suspension by the Securities and Exchange Commission of trading in the stock of a major Wall Street firm, Bache Group, spilled over in Canada and sent prices sharply lower on the key Toronto Stock Exchange. The collapse there trimmed an estimated $6 billion from the quoted value of Canadian shares.
Bache's commodity subsidiary handled a large futures trading account for the Hunt brothers of Dallas. The firm said last night that the selloff of the Hunts' position had only a "negligible" adverse impact on Bache's financial position. However, the news of Bache's involvement and speculation about other securities and commodities traders apparently contributed to the early selling panic.
The Hunts also sold heavily yesterday in four stocks -- First Chicago Corp., Texaco, Louisiana Land & Exploration and Gulf Resources & Chemical -- which also affected trading.
First Chicago Corp, was second most active on the NYSE, off 1 3/8 to 11 1/8 in heavy trading that included blocks of 725,000 and 135,000 shares. Texaco, down 2 initially, closed up 1 1/2 at 33. Louisiana Land lost 2 5/8 to 33 1/2 and Gulf Resources fell 3 1/2 to 20 1/2.
Bache was down 1 1/4 before the SEC suspended its trading. Precious metals and mining issues also skidded with Dome Mines off 9 1/2 to 48 1/2 and McIntyre Mines off 9 to 37.
Only in the blue chips arena were there any significant gains. Mobil Corp., whose stock has been volatile recently because of potential discoveries in fields off Newfoundland, was the most-active NYSE issue, up 7 1/2 to 66. IBM gained 1 1/2 to 54 and Gulf added 7/8 to 36 3/4.
Stocks of Washington area companies were no exception to yesterday's selloff, although many recovered from lows during the day. Southern Rail fell 3/4 to 51 3/4, Federal National Mortgage was off 1/8 to 12 5/8, Potomac Electric Power was off 1/4 to 10, Communications Satellite gave up 3/8 to 29 3/4, Riggs National Bank fell 1 to 34, bid, Martin Marietta dropped 1 1/8 to 41 2/8 and Marriott Corp. fell 3/4 to 18 3/8 in heavy trading.