Stocks rallied in a stunning late-session turnaround Thursday, shooting higher and hurtling the Dow Jones industrials up 410 points following a report that the federal government might create an entity to absorb banks' bad debt. The report also cooled investors' fervor for the safest types of investments like government debt.
The report that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is considering the formation of a vehicle like the Resolution Trust Corp. that was set up during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s left previously solemn investors ebullient.
The Treasury Department and Federal Reserve declined to comment Thursday on any discussions Paulson may have had with lawmakers about a Resolution Trust Corporation-style fix for a financial market crisis."We're not going to comment on rumors," Treasury spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli said.
Wall Street hoped a huge federal intervention could help financial institutions jettison bad mortgage debt and stop the drain on capital that has already taken down companies including Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers Holdings.
Worries about financial landmines on companies' books have essentially crippled parts of the world's financial markets in recent days and led to the intense volatility in the markets this week.
"It's going to take a lot of the bad debt off the balance sheets of these companies," said Scott Fullman, director of derivatives investment strategy for WJB Capital Group in New York, commenting on the possibilities of an entity akin to the RTC. It could alleviate many of the pressures causing the credit crisis, he said, and reopen moribund credit markets. But Fullman noted, "the devil's in the details."
"Bear markets are very sensitive to news. And on a scale of 1 to 10, this one is a 13," he said.
The report from CNBC gave direction to a market that had bolted in and out of positive territory for much of the session as investors shuttled between the safety of Treasury bills and gold and the bargains posed by stocks that have been pounded lower.
The Dow soared 410.03, or 3.86%, to 11,019.69, surging 560 points from its low of the day, 10,459.44. It was the Dow's biggest percentage point gain since October 2002 but still leaves the index down about 400 points for the week after routs Monday and Wednesday.
Broader stock indicators also jumped. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 50.12, or 4.33%, to 1,206.51, and the Nasdaq composite index advanced 100.25, or 4.78%, to 2,199.10.
The report of a broader government bailout proved more reassuring to investors than moves before Wall Street's opening bell Thursday by the Federal Reserve and other major central banks to inject as much as $180 billion into global money markets. The moves were an attempt to keep the credit crisis from worsening; the Fed added another $55 billion in overnight loans Thursday.
But it was only the prospect of a more comprehensive vehicle to sweep up bad debt that emboldened investors. Congress established the RTC in 1989 to buy $394 billion worth of real estate, mortgages and other assets of hundreds of failed savings-and-loan institutions. The corporation operated for several years disposing of the associations' assets, and then went out of business.