Wall Street was whacked overnight and, for the second week in a row, enthusiastic Aussie punters paid a heavy price for plunging into a Monday market boosted by US gains the preceding Friday.
Yesterday saw rumours about a Chinese bid for Rio Tinto boost the market in a mad, bad example of bubble buying — the index rose 141 points, or more than 2%, but the local market lost those gains in the first 25 minutes of trading this morning as US gloom settled in on the news that the Federal Reserve had followed the European Central Bank by injecting funds to try and maintain money market liquidity.
Local investors had ignored news that the European Central Bank would make regular injections of liquidity until the end of the year, and possibly into 2008, in an attempt to help ease the liquidity freeze which is now said to be worse than when it first struck in August.
And global giant HSBC sent bank shares tumbling as it revealed plans to bring $US45 billion in loans and investments from off balance sheet funding vehicles into its accounts immediately to prevent a fire sale which would damage the market and its accounts.
By the time US trading started, investors were nervy and news that the US Federal Reserve had made a market funding deal to inject liquidity into the markets past the end of 2007 only made them more worried.
The Fed said “heightened pressures in money markets” had prompted it to take steps to increase the cash available to banks for loans. The Fed also changed the rules on borrowing Treasury securities from its portfolio to give it and the market more flexibility in dealing with the tightening credit conditions.
The cash rate had been above the Federal Funds rate of 4.5% for most of the past seven trading days, a sign of tightening conditions and the Fed’s move is aimed at keeping that rate around 4.5% into the early weeks of 2008.
The Fed move helped yields on US bonds and notes tumble: the two year bond is now under 3% and the benchmark 10 year bond settled at three and a half year lows around 3.84% as yields fell sharply in afternoon trading.
The retreat into bonds accelerated in the late afternoon, sending the Dow crashing 235 points in the last two and a half hours of trading.
November is on track to be the worst month for US shares for five years. Both the S&P 500 and Dow are now down 10.1% from their October highs and in correction territory; the Japanese, Chinese and Hong Kong markets are close to bear territory which is a 20% fall from the peak, while European markets have mostly lost all this year’s gains.
Not helping was a report from Goldman Sachs that suggested HSBC would have to write off another $US12 billion in subprime related loans and securities, on top of existing write downs and losses of over $US12 billion.
Goldman Sachs also issued a separate report which forecast further falls in US house prices and building activity and said that a third of the US was now in recession because of falling house prices.
That measure will be tested tonight by the release of the latest quarterly Standard&Poor’s Case/Schiller House Price Index which is expected to show a growing pace of decline in house prices across the US. There will also be new home sales figures for October which are not expected to be good.
And Citigroup denied a report that it was looking at sacking up to 45,000 people but admitted it was looking to make itself more efficient, while other reports put the job losses at the US’s biggest bank at around 17,000.