The bull market, breathless after an eight-month, 300-point run, yesterday mustered enough last-minute strength to top the 1,600 mark, reaching its highest level in history.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 1,600.69, up 7.57 for the day on New York Stock Exchange volume of 146.1 million shares. Advances led declines 978 to 629.
Since the market began its latest surge on May 20, 1985, when the DJIA closed above 1,300 for the first time, new records have been set quickly. It took the Dow industrials only 24 trading days to go from 1,400 to 1,500 and only 39 days to go from 1,500 to 1,600.
"We could not have had a better set of circumstances," said David M. Jones, senior vice president at Aubrey G. Lanston, a government securities dealer. He attributed the market's rise to signs of "fairly strong" economic growth, a continued slide in inflation paced by falling oil prices and a general drop in interest rates.
But even as the market set its new record, it was showing signs of worry about two events scheduled for today, the release of January employment data and a court decision on the constitutionality of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law, which requires the federal budget to be balanced by 1991.
On Jan. 8, when the market dropped 39.10 points, the fall was triggered by a December report showing 320,000 more Americans were employed. "Too much good news makes bad news," observed Larry Wachtel, chief market strategist for Prudential-Bache.
He predicted that if today's figures showed more than 300,000 jobs added, "it will be a negative for the bond market." If fewer than 200,000 jobs were added to the rolls, he said, it would be considered "surprisingly soft." The bond market sees economic growth as inflationary and the forerunner of higher interest rates, which drive down bond prices.
If the U.S. District Court rules against Gramm-Rudman, Wachtel said, "the market will take a hit." If the decision goes the other way, it will rally, he said. Wall Street has been banking heavily on action to curb the federal budget deficit.
The stock market and bond market, which have been moving in tandem, moved in opposite directions yesterday as bond traders expressed their concerns about the employment figures and Gramm-Rudman. Yields on 30-year Treasury bonds fell from 9.34 percent to 9.29 percent. "There were some jitters in the bond market," said Jones.
Market participants took varying views of the basic condition of the market. Wachtel said the market "really had to struggle" to get to 1,600 and its fast rise might present at least a short-term problem. Richard McCabe, market strategist at Merrill Lynch, said the new record was "part of the resumption of the trend" but noted that "there didn't seem to be a lot of exuberance." He expects the market to go to 1,700 during the mid-year with "minor hesitations," he said.
Charles S. Comer, market analyst with Oppenheimer & Co., said, "It wasn't a dynamite day, but the fact (is) that we were bucking the bond market." Worries on Wall Street, he said, included a special brand of acrophobia, fear of being caught in a market that is too high.