The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index managed to break into single digits today, gaining a little more than one point--it's biggest move in four days.
The market doesn't get much flatter than it's been this month and the last few days have been the flattest of a flat month.
The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index fell by a single point today, closing at 2,115.40 and the Dow Jones industrial average, gained almost 17, closing at 10,473.09. The S&P ended the day up by a single point, closing at 1,216.89.
So far this month, the Dow has moved just 8 points--8 points down, not that it matters when the movement is so small. The S&P 500 is off 3 points for the month. Hyperkinetic by comparison, the Nasdaq Composite is down 37 points.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita get the blame for shutting down the market--just as they've shut down most of the petroleum production and refining along the Gulf Coast.
But the bigger problem is that neither individual investors nor Wall Street traders have a clue about where the economy is going or what stocks might be solid investments in the months ahead.
Because nobody has panicked--yet--the markets remain calm, but it could be the lull before the storm if the worst fears about what's ahead are confirmed even in part.
Today, for example, traders started buying when the government's report on orders for big ticket items came in stronger than expected. And they were briefly encouraged by the latest energy statistics, which showed gasoline supplies grew.
Hopes for a stock rally soon faded, however, when energy traders weighed the gas numbers against the shutdown refineries on the Gulf Coast and concluded that the outlook is for gasoline supplies to remain tight and for prices to keep rising.
Gasoline futures gained 17 cents a gallon today to $2.34 a gallon--plus tax, transportation and dealer profit. Crude oil climbed $1.28 a barrel to $66.35.
But it was natural gas that really moved. Futures for gas to be delivered next month jumped $1.251, or 9.9 percent, to an all-time record of $13.907 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
That means consumers who are already paying painful prices at the pump are facing even more petroleum pain once the weather turns cold.
That's Wall Street's biggest worry. Can American consumers, who have been carrying the economy--and the stock market--for months continue to keep spending?
Nobody on Wall Street is willing to bet on it, which is why he stock market is dead in the water.