Stocks Open Down After Big Rally

Sales of existing homes, copper prices, demand for crude bolster optimism.

March 23, 2009, 7:35 AM

March 24, 2009— -- The market spent most of the day retreating slightly from its giant Monday rally as experts found signs of economic encouragement in the Obama administration's $1 trillion plan to buy up banks' toxic assets as well as other areas, like the boomlet in the sales of existing homes.

The Dow Jones industrial average started the day lower, edged into positive territory shortly after 2 p.m. but then dropped again, closing down 115.57 points at 7660.29.

The day before, the Dow surged nearly 500 points but now Wall Street and the rest of the world appear to be to shrugging off the early euphoria over the administration's latest attempt to stabilize the banks and are now focusing on the plan's details.

"One day does not make a plan successful," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner admitted Monday night. "We believe we have to provide very substantial forms of financing to help get those markets going again."

All eyes on Wall Street were fixed on Capitol Hill today as Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before the House Financial Services Committee about the government's intervention at insurance giant American International Group.

They will be focused again tonight on President Obama when he holds a primetime news conference that will likely focus heavily on the economy.

Monday's market surge was triggered by Geithner's unveiling of a plan to use as much as $1 trillion in public and private funds to buy toxic assets from banks, freeing the banks to resume lending.

A resurgence in lending may not happen immediately. Officials said it would take four to eight weeks to get the program under way.

"It is going to take quite some time for them to navigate all of this toxic stuff off the balance sheets off the banks," said John Bussey, Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal.

Investment giant BlackRock, however, is downright enthusiastic about the new program.

The investment management firm has applied to become one of the government-selected managers and is willing to raise $5 billion or so of private money to partner with taxpayer dollars, Curtis Arledge, co-head of Blackrock's U.S. Fixed Income Portfolio Management Group, told ABC News.

"We think many of these assets are trading at prices well below their intrinsic value," Arledge said.

Jack Bouroudjian, CEO of the Futures Group in Chicago, was also encouraged by Geithner's plan.

Music to Borrowers' Ears

"It's the beginning. If you're looking to buy a house, if you want to borrow money for a car, if you're looking at student loans, this is music to your ears," Bouroudjian told "Good Morning America."

Economic liftoff may happen sooner than some think, he added.

"When they talk about four to eight weeks, one of the things we'll probably see is some of the institutions that want to start to lend will feel free to start lending, knowing that they are a few weeks away from having the government there to be able to help them," Bouroudjian said.

Art Cashin, stock exchange floor director for UBS, was more cautious.

"Will the sellers want to sell? And if they do sell, will they want to lend that money?" Cashin asked on "GMA."

"Many of these banks are learning that taking money from the government is like living with your mother-in-law. You lose a good deal of your freedom," he said.

Cashin said there will be people willing to buy banks' toxic assets. "But I want to hear from the bankers themselves as to what prices they're willing to take," he said.

President Obama said Monday that there are "glimmers of hope in the housing market," as well as signs that there is easier access to student loans, small business and car loans.

Bouroudjian seemed to agree with the president, noting the price of copper, an economic bellweather, has stablized. There is also an increased demand for crude oil and soybeans, he said.

Another encouraging sign was that the sale of existing homes jumped 5.1 percent in February, the largest monthly boost since July 2003.

Much of that was spurred by the rock bottom prices for houses now and the arrival of foreign buyers and real pros known as "housing vultures."

Some investors are already swooping in and buying up homes at a fifth of what they once cost.

Consider this: A six-bedroom home with a tennis court and pool was listed for $3.25 million and now, the minimum bid is $1.7 million, down 48 percent. Such pickings are attracting buyers from around the world.

In hard-hit states such as Michigan, California, Nevada and Florida foreign investors are snatching up homes at deep discounts. They come from as close as Canada and Mexico and as far away as China and India to take advantage of what they see as a good deal.

Bottom of the Real Estate Slide?

Some, like a group of Chinese businessmen, come to the states on real estate tours.

Most Chinese believe they need to see a house to make sure it has the proper feng shui. But some foreign investors don't even leave home to buy houses here.

"They don't necessarily feel a reason to come over here and look. Some of them will actually buy just through what they're seeing on the Internet," said Pat Lashinsky, CEO of Zip Realty.

Bruce Norris is a developer who hopes to pick up 100 homes by the end of the year in California's Inland Empire east of Los Angeles.

Norris showed "GMA" a house that sold for $350,000 at the peak of the market, but he bought it for $55,000.

"We'll fix it with about $37-38,000 and we'll rent it for about $1,200," Norris said. It will eventually be sold for $165,000, almost doubling Norris' investment, he said.

Because the real estate pros are buying, experts believe they are seeing the bottom of the real estate slide.

"Without question, what's happening is a positive sign," said Stuart A. Gabriel, a professor and director of the Ziman Center for Real Estate at UCLA.

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