Declaration of martial law in Poland, Israel's move to annex territory captured from Syria in 1967 and renewed fears about higher interest rates at home had a triple-whammy effect on the nation's financial markets yesterday.
But overall trading activity was light--a "good sign," according to Leslie Silverstone in the Washington office of Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. He attributed weakness in the stock and bond markets yesterday to a typical but "very sensitive" response by investors to interest-rate news in what he described as early stages of a "bull" or advancing market.
On Wall Street, stock prices fell sharply with the Dow Jones average of 30 industrial issues on the New York Stock Exchange down 15.03 points to 871.48 and the broader Wilshire Associates' index of 5,000 equities off 1.65 percent. For the Dow, it was the biggest one-day setback since a 17.22-point decline on Sept. 3.
The U.S. dollar surged in panicky buying early yesterday but settled back later in the day. Gold, which normally glitters more brightly during times of international tension, was not an investment star yesterday: It closed in New York at $413.75 an ounce, up less than $6 from Friday's close of $407.
Bond prices were mixed after opening on the downside and advancing late in the session--the latter on news that initial jobless claims have risen sharply, an indicator of deeper recession and lower interest rates to come. In the commodities markets, grain futures were weak because of fears that a trade embargo could develop while silver and gold futures generally advanced, partially because of reported buying from Europe and the Middle East.
Analysts said that the stock market was ripe for a selloff because this is the time of year when many investors unload some securities in their portfolio for tax purposes, helping to fix capital gains or losses for 1981.
The combination of uncertain developments in Poland, Crocker National Bank's decision to boost its prime rate to 15 3/4 percent from 15 1/2 percent, U.S. Trust Co.'s increase to 13 1/4 percent in its broker loan rate and last Friday's Federal Reserve report of a substantial jump in the basic money supply added to the jitters.
Weekend news about Poland contributed to one selling wave early in the day while news from the Middle East, about Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, created another selling wave in the final hour. In between, trading was slow and overall NYSE volume for the day was 44.74 million shares, off slightly from 45.85 million last Friday.
Only one of every six issues traded on the Big Board increased in value in what Bache Halsey Stuart Shields analyst Larry Wachtel called "one of those days with few redeeming qualities." Phillips Petroleum was most active on the Big Board, up 87 1/2 cents to $45; company officials had no explanation. MGIC was next on the active list, up $4.13 to $47.75 after signing a definitive agreement for a merger with Baldwin-United that will give MGIC owners $52 a share.
Among stocks of local interest, Norfolk & Western Railway fell $1.13 to $52.50 after announcing a final agreement to acquire 20 percent of Piedmont Aviation, which fell 37 1/2 cents to $26.38. Bethlehem Steel, which announced major layoffs in Maryland, fell 12 1/2 cents to $22.63, and Southern Railway declined $1.13 to $93.75. The D.C. firm has announced a $90 million capital spending program for 1982.
In the over-the-counter market, MCI Communications of Washington declined $1.50 to $33.75 and was second-most-active on a volume of 250,600. The Washington Post reported yesterday that MCI officers recently visited European financial centers to discuss possible financing. Overall, the National Association of Securities Dealers composite OTC index was down 2.97 points to 195.67. The American Exchange index was off 6.15 points to 316.86.
James Sinclair, head of Sinclair Group and a specialist in precious metals, said that "in light of the seriousness of the Polish affair and of events in the Middle East, the markets have reacted quite calmly, and this indicates that the greatest degree of anxiety is economic, not political."