Originally created 09/13/98

Clinton scandal, economic turmoil gives stock markets jitters



NEW YORK -- The twists and turns are so fast and furious, so flaky, that Wall Street's daily interpretations of world events could aptly be regarded as the rantings of someone who's head is still spinning from a 512-point trauma.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan speaks a few reassuring words, and the Dow Jones industrial average leaps to a record gain of 380 points on Tuesday.

But the summer slide quickly resumed the next two days, swallowing up that big gain just in time for Kenneth Starr's allegations against President Clinton to spark a 180-point rally on Friday.

"These daily whipsaws are just people saying, `I want to be in the market,' and `I want to be out of the market.' People betting the market day-to-day are not going to change this trend," said Charles Lemonides, and portfolio manager at Sterling Advisors. "The financial markets have been in a state of turmoil for an extended period of time, and that's not going to change on the day."

The main problem is that the current litany of troubles gripping and crippling the stock market isn't terribly easy to grasp in any substantive way. In fact, all the fickle mood swings of the past week rather accurately depict a domestic and global backdrop that's grown far too nebulous to quantify.

When Asia's economic turmoil unsettled the market in August of 1997 and again in October and January, the untrained eye would have assumed that the damage would remain as geographically contained as the Latin American fiscal crisis that erupted in late 1994.

This time, however, the financial flames are breaching regional firewalls, even jumping across oceans and hitting closer to home in countries like Brazil and Canada.

Likewise, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal first broke back in January, it threatened to impede Clinton's dealings with Congress, not throw him from office.

"This couldn't come at a worse time. There is a financial crisis and policy makers have to make some decisions," said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at First Albany, noting that Congress has yet to approve new money for the International Monetary Fund's fiscal relief efforts. "I don't believe the Congress is going to do that unless Clinton uses political muscle, and he's not in a position to do that now."

The crucial factors going forward, analysts say, will be the public's reaction to the independent counsel's case against the president and the impending flood of company profit previews.

"We're coming into a period where we have great fear because it's earnings preannouncement season and people assume we will get more bad news about earnings than good news," said Ronald J. Hill, investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. "If it's quite clear over the next three to five days that the public supports the president or backs away from the president, either would be helpful."

On Friday, the Dow rose 179.96 to 7,795.50, closing the week 155.25 higher. The rally trimmed the Dow's 1998 loss to 1 percent and shrank the gap from the July 17 record of 9,337.97 to about 16.5 percent.

The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 28.87 to 1,009.06 on Friday, gaining 35.17 for the week. The Nasdaq composite index rose 56.31 to 1,641.64 on Friday, closing the week 75.12 higher.

In other trading Friday, the New York Stock Exchange composite index rose 12.26 to 500.03, up 13.72 for the week; the American Stock Exchange composite index rose 6.98 to 613.21, up 10.50 for the week; and the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 8.65 to 353.62, up 6.55 for the week.

The Wilshire Associates Equity Index -- which represents the combined market value of all NYSE, American and Nasdaq issues -- ended the week at $9.207 trillion, up $275.6 billion from last week. A year ago, the index stood at $8.940 trillion.