Triple threat on financial market keeps eyes on Wall Street

Published 2:36 pm Monday, September 15, 2008

Stocks plummeted and Treasury bond prices soared Monday as investors reacted to a stunning reshaping of the landscape of Wall Street that took out two storied names: Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co. The major indexes each fell more than 3 percent, including the Dow Jones industrial average, which lost more than 400 points.

Stocks also posted big losses in markets across much of the globe as investors absorbed Lehman’s bankruptcy filing and what was essentially a forced sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America for $50 billion in stock. While those companies’ situations had reached some resolution, the market remained anxious about American International Group Inc., which is seeking emergency funding to shore up its balance sheet. A faltering of the world’s largest insurance company likely would have financial implications far beyond that of Lehman, the largest U.S. bankruptcy.

The swift developments are the biggest yet in the 14-month-old credit crises that stems from now toxic subprime mortgage debt.

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Investors are worried that trouble at AIG and the bankruptcy filing by Lehman, felled by $60 billion in bad debt and a dearth of investor confidence, will touch off another series of troubles for banks and financial institutions that may be forced to further write down the value of their own debt assets. Wall Street had been hopeful six months ago that the collapse of Bear Stearns would mark the darkest day of the credit crisis.

AIG’s troubles a week after its stock dropped 45 percent are worrisome for some investors because of the company’s enormous balance sheet and the risks that troubles with that companies finances could spill over to the companies with which it does business. AIG, one of the 30 stocks that make up the Dow industrials, fell $6.93, or 57 percent, to $5.21 Monday as investors worried that it would be the subject of downgrades from credit ratings agencies.

While the market was down sharply for much of the session, the selling accelerated in the last hour.

“I think as we get closer to the close, people continue to get more nervous,” said Ryan Larson, senior equity trader at Voyageur Asset Management, a unit of RBC Dain Rauscher. “People sense that there is still a lot more pain to be felt.”

In late afternoon trading, the Dow fell 415.49, or 3.64 percent, to 11,006.50 and fell below the 11,000 mark for the first time since mid-July.

Broader stock indicators also fell. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index declined 49.59, or 3.96 percent, to 1,202.11, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 71.05, or 3.14 percent, to 2,190.22.

Declining issues overwhelmed advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, where 192 stocks rose compared to 3,027 that fell. Volume came to a moderate 1.24 billion shares.