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After months of tortuous trading, Wall Street rang out its worst year since the Great Depression yesterday, leaving shareholders $6.9 trillion the poorer.
The losses in 2008 were so broad and deep that every sector in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index took a double-digit hit, and the financial sector lost more than half of its value. The Dow Jones industrial average, an index of 30 blue-chip stocks, and the S&P, a broader index watched by market professionals, were down 34 percent and 38 percent, respectively, their deepest losses since the 1930s. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index was down 41 percent, its worst year since the exchange was created in 1971.
Overseas, the year was just as dismal. In Germany, stocks were down 40 percent, in Japan, 42 percent, in Brazil, 41 percent. Taken together, all of the world’s stocks lost 48 percent last year.
The year ended with relatively positive economic news, though analysts said it will have limited impact. The Labor Department said jobless claims fell by 94,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 492,000, a bigger drop than expected, but unemployment remains historically high. And rates for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 5.1 percent this week from 5.14 percent the week before — the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking that data in 1971. But the housing market remains weak and home values have plummeted.
With the economy expected to sour further during the first half of the year and poor corporate earnings likely to pile up as businesses account for the losses from the financial crisis and housing downturn, a stock market recovery will be bumpy, analysts said.
It has traditionally taken about five years for stocks to recover from a “mega-meltdown,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist for Standard & Poor’s Equity Research. If the S&P does not revisit the low levels it reached in November, it could gain 15 percent in 2009, making a dent in 2008’s losses, he said.
But “if we find the recession is deeper and longer than we currently expect, if there are more financial land mines that are unanticipated, there is no guarantee” stocks will not collapse again, Stovall said.