Today's Papers

Dow Bites Man

Everyone leads with yesterday’s action on Wall St. Nobody calls it a “crash.” At USA Today, it’s a “global stock market blowout.” At the Los Angeles Times, it’s a “sell-off.” The Wall Street Journal goes with “correction.” The New York Times favors “plunge,” the Washington Post, “waves of selling.”

Despite the one-day loss of almost $700 billion in stock value and the halting of trading, not once but twice, by tripped “circuit-breakers,” the papers make the non-crash case in their primary reporting. They all point out that the 7.2 percent drop in the Dow was far less than the 22.6 percent drop in 1987, and not even among the top ten biggest one-day percentage losses. (It was 12th.) And that the Dow is still up over 11 percent for the year. The WP produces a particularly interesting pro-calm nugget: It has the chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange saying that within a couple of hours after the Big Board closed, nearly 80 percent of his market’s traders had paid off what they owed from the day’s trades. This, notes the Post, is a sign that firms are healthy enough to absorb their losses.

And the NYT observes that thus far the stock market has not seen the explosive growth in volume that characterized the 1987 crash. (But, notes the WP, there was one growth of volume compared to 1987–that of on-line trading, which as a result yesterday provided poor to non-existent execution.)

The WSJ quotes one brokerage house stock expert to the effect that the Fed isn’t tightening, interest rates aren’t rising and there isn’t a recession in sight. The paper also quotes a second Wall Streeter saying, “There is no sense of urgency like in 1987..It seemed far too quiet for a day with almost 700 million shares traded and a Dow off 550 points.” Then the Journal tries to take the temperature of people off the Street, but in doing so, demonstrates a bit of a tin ear about the typical investor, since the paper immediately comes up with a West Hollywood hair stylist getting his Mercedes Benz washed, and a New York psychotherapist who spent a session calming a patient thinking about selling.

The WSJ says that the day’s events show one thing above all else: “To an extent never seen before, the world’s stock markets are interconnected and co-dependent. When one market quakes, others can tremble.” Indeed, the papers say another down Dow day is likely today based on poor Tuesday openings in the Asian markets.

Despite the generally evenhanded reporting, there are still some hyper graphic elements. Both USAT and the LAT run their headlines in extremely bold type. And to boot, the LAT’s is a six-column banner. And (as was pointed out to this column by Tim Ferguson of Forbes) somebody should tell the photo editors that those pictures of anguished-looking floor traders that so often run with “sell-off” stories are a bit misleading. Those traders aren’t necessarily bummed out when markets go down big-time. They’re just tired. Unless they’re carrying their own long positions, they make money on their transactions either way.