Recession and Stock Market and Economy and Banking & Finance and Government & Economic Development

Stock markets weather historic plunge

December 29, 2008
Unless markets surge in the final days of the year, 2008 will go down as the worst year for stocks since the Great Depression.

The plunge in stock prices translated into a horrific year for executives of many Indiana public companies. Thirty-three of the 75 public companies tracked by IBJ shed more than 50 percent of their value. Twenty-two companies were poised to close the year below $5 a share.

One of the few stars in 2008 was Finish Line Inc. Its shares surged after it canceled its $1.5 billion acquisition of Genesco Inc., a deal analysts feared would send the Indianapolis firm into bankruptcy. Finish Line stock was up more 120 percent.

But many other Hoosier companies saw the bottom fall out of their stock prices as fear swept through financial markets.

The subprime mortgage crisis that erupted in late 2007 escalated into an all-out credit crunch. Firms laden with debt saw their financial flexibility evaporate at the same time customers were cutting back orders.

Economists say the meltdown began with the bursting of the housing bubble. Suddenly, Americans felt less affluent and began cutting back on everything from dinners out to car purchases.

Adding to investor anxiety was the collapse of Wall Street titans that leveraged themselves to the hilt and poured billions into complex securities that ultimately went bad.

Taking some of the worst thrashings in Indiana were heavily leveraged companies such as Emmis Communications Corp. (down 84 percent) and financial firms like Irwin Financial Corp. (down 72 percent) and Conseco Inc. (down 71 percent).

As of Dec. 23, the S&P 500 was off 40 percent for the year. That's on par with the second-worst year ever, 1937. The worst year was 1931, when the index plunged 43 percent.

Just a few weeks ago, the S&P 500's 2008 loss appeared poised to rival that mark. However, since hitting an 11-year low on Nov. 21, the index has rebounded 16 percent.
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