With the sharp drop in interest rates possibly ending and oil prices firming, the six-month-old bull market has finally hit a long-expected cooling off period, analysts said today.
Many analysts said they expect stocks to perform poorly until the summer, when they may recover on reports of higher corporate profits. It will take that long for the benefits of cheaper oil, lower rates and a weaker dollar to filter into the economy, they said.
Stock prices pulled back again today as the market failed in its attempt to snap a four-day losing streak. Uncertainty over the economy's health and fears that interest rates will rebound left some investors reluctant to trade heavily.
The Dow Jones average of 30 industrials drifted at slightly higher levels during much of the day, but late selling dragged the blue chips down and left the indicator 3.10 points lower at 1,774.68.
"I think the market is going to be quite erratic after the damage that was sustained in Wednesday's sell-off," said Eugene Peroni, director of technical research for Bateman Eichler, Hill Richards Inc. "It will take several weeks for the market to get over the trauma."
On Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average plunged a record 41.91 points. Its weekly loss of 60.89 points was exceeded only by the 82.50-point dive it took in the five trading sessions ended April 4.
At the final bell, losers held a narrow lead over gainers in the overall tally of issues listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The NYSE composite index dipped 0.09 point to 135.39.
Volume on the Big Board contracted to 126.27 million shares from 146.48 million on Thursday.
In April, stocks posted a monthly decline for the first time in half a year. The Dow Jones industrial average, the most closely watched market indicator on Wall Street, fell 25.63 points to 1,783.98.
The bull market began in the middle of September, when the Dow average of 30 blue-chip stocks was around 1,310. It reached an all-time high of 1,855.90 on April 21.
"Now, stocks have to find another catalyst other than projected lower interest rates," said William Lefevre of Purcell Graham, an investment firm.
But the road ahead could be filled with land mines. Overly rosy short-term earnings projections could cause repeated misfires, said Robert Christian, an economist with Provident National Bank.
Recent signs of an unforgiving market include the battering of shares of Raychem and US Shoe; both recently dropped more than 10 percent in value in one day on negative earnings reports.
And the market's general high optimism left it vulnerable to the news of the Soviet nuclear mishap in Chernobyl, Christian said. "Anything unforeseen can have a very damaging effect when there is a high level of optimism," he said.
Christian has kept his own optimism bottled up for later: He expects the Dow Jones industrial average to surge "well beyond 2,000 in 1986" when the market responds to what he said will be a much revived economy later in the year.
Corporate earnings, which have been virtually unchanged, will surge 10 percent in 1986, with a strong second half, he said.
Although interest rates may have seen their biggest declines, stocks may grow more attractive as investors focus on their "total return," or dividends plus price appreciation, said Hugh Johnson, an economist with First Albany.
Dividend payouts will rise 7 percent as earnings rebound in 1986, he predicted, adding that the chance for making money will be enhanced by improved corporate earnings.
But before investors can cash in on any of these developments, a decline could continue, Johnson said.
He traced the current decline to the rising concern that the dollar fell too far, too fast. At about the time the Dow industrials reached the all-time high of 1855.90 in mid-April, the dollar was hitting its all-time low against the Japanese yen.
For stocks, this was a psychological turning point. With the dollar in a precipitous fall, the Federal Reserve's hands were tied, with respect to fostering further interest-rate drops, Johnson said.
The descent of the dollar was scaring foreign investors away from U.S. investments, including stocks, analysts said.
"As long as [interest] rates were dropping rapidly, there was a tremendous urgency on the buy side in the stock market," said Walter Wulkan, head of investment strategy at Gruntal and Co. He said that demand for stocks has tapered off.
"Traditionally, a bull market has two phases," said Wulkan. The first is a response to declining interest rates, the second, to rising profits fueled by the lower rates.
"We're in a resting period in the economy now," he said, adding that the recent 0.5 percent rise in the March leading economic indicators showed a virtual no-growth phase.