A third straight day of riots sweep across Greece after their Parliament approved a new austerity plan. As live images of police repelling protesters outside the Parliament Building, Wall Street went on a wild sleigh ride. At approximately 2:40pm EDT, a possible sell order on Proctor & Gamble began a massive sell-off. Within 20 short minutes, the Dow Jones Index lost 998.5 points, the largest ‘intra-day’ loss in the history of the New York Stock Exchange. Several stocks nearly lost all their value. Accenture, for example, went from around $40 a share to ONE PENNY! After the wave of electronic selling, the Dow did rebound, but still finished the day down 347.8 points, about a 3.2% decline. With the unemployment rate in the U.S. edging upward to 9.9%, many fear that market fundamentals indicate we are poised for a ‘double-dip recession’. Many question the honesty of the Obama administration’s recent ‘happy-talk’ on the economy.
Greek civil employees, mostly unionized, will have their wages and benefits slashed by as much as 30%, including capping holiday bonus pay to a maximum of 1,000 Euros. Their VAT rate is increased an additional 2% to 23%, prior to March, it was 19%. Other taxes are increased 10% and the retirement age will be increased, linked to life expectancy. Private companies will no longer be limited to laying off no more than 2% of their workforce per month. The measures passed 172 to 122 yesterday as part of bailout plan where some 110 Billion Euros will be lent to Greece from Euro Zone nations and the International Monetary Fund.
Concerns of the Sovereign Debt Contagion spreading to other European nations has been mounting the past month as Spain and Portugal, along with Greece, have had their bond ratings lowered. Other nations are on the brink of similar trouble. The fear of the Debt Contagion spreading outside of Europe is also now looming, as banks in the U.S. and Asia review their exposure to Euro Zone financial markets.
While most U.S. banks have only a limited investment in Greek bonds, many are more deeply integrated with other European banks that have greater exposure to bonds from the so-called ‘PIGS’ nations. Yesterday, most of the major U.S. banks, like Bank of America, saw their stocks lose 7% of their value. Fear of “mutually assured economic destruction” is rising. Other exchanges, such as the NASDAQ, also got hit hard along with the NYSE. Apple lost some $17 a share during the height of the sell-off.
On Tuesday, Congressional hearings will be held to investigate the Thursday’s market roller- coaster. Electronic trading methods, such has FLASH and High-Frequency Trading that use algorithmic programs to automatically buy and sell stocks in a fraction of a second will be reviewed. The NYSE and other exchanges are already modifying many of the results, discarding some trades that occurred during the 20 minute free-fall as if they never happened. Could this have been a cyber-attack?
With more riots in Greece and this mornings increase in the U.S. unemployment rate to 9.9%, many are now questioning recent stories in the Media of an economic recovery. The Obama administration has been ‘talking up’ the economy, painting a rosy picture as the November mid-terms draw nearer. But with unemployment inching up again, and the potential for higher oil prices this summer, some see this as a sign that the economy will double-dip and the recession will get worse. The pending financial reform bill in the Senate does nothing to prevent future bailouts of too-big-to-fail companies, nor does it tackle key causes for the 2008 Crash, mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Even AIG, which posted a 1st Quarter profit of $2.1 Billion dollars announced that it may still require further bailouts from U.S. taxpayers today!