The Dow Jones industrial average ended the week down 276 points, closing just below the 10,300 mark. That's about where it was in December 2003. And in March, May, June, July, September and November of 2004. And again in April and June of 2005.
Do you think, perhaps, we're in something of a rut?
Before this week, there were some on Wall Street who thought that maybe the economy was growing fast enough, and long-term interest rates were low enough, and corporate profits were coming in strong enough, and the pace of mergers and acquisitions was frenzied enough that maybe, just maybe, the Dow could break out of the trading range that it's been stuck in for nearly two years.
Not that some investors haven't done very well investing in health insurers, oil refiners, defense contractors and Internet search engines. But for every Humana, there's been a Merck, for every Valero there's a Delta Airlines, for every General Dynamics there is a General Motors, for every Google there is a Microsoft, the losers taking away what the winners giveth.
Meanwhile, lurking in the background have been wars, terrorist attacks, twin deficits, a deflation scare, stagnant wages and the housing bubble. More recently, there have been soaring energy prices, rising interest rates, hurricanes and a strong whiff of inflation.
Considering all the headwinds, maybe we should be grateful that the stock market has been running in place.
Several trends are obvious.
One is that investors everywhere, but particularly in foreign countries, have begun to move money into Europe and Asia. While U.S. stock indexes are now down for the year, they're up smartly in Latin America, Europe, India and Japan. The U.S. market can no longer rely on a steady flow of new foreign investment.
Nor can American investors continue to rely on the willingness of American consumers to spend beyond their means. Household saving is now nonexistent, mortgage refinancings are finished and rising energy budgets are cutting into discretionary spending, even before the 30 to 50 percent rise in heating bills predicted for the coming winter. Forecasts for the Christmas shopping season are less than jolly.
In the next few weeks, corporate reports of strong gains in third-quarter profits could put a little life back in the market, and stocks might even regain some of the ground lost last week. But if recent history is any guide, the odds are pretty good that sometime in the next six months, you'll look up to find the Dow once again at 10,300.