We all scratched our heads today as the Dow plunged almost 1,000 points in 15 minutes...then rebounded. Still no explanation:
Traders and Washington policy makers struggled to keep up as the Dow Jones industrial average fell 1,000 points shortly after 2:30 p.m. and then mostly rebounded in a matter of minutes. For a moment, the sell-off seemed to overwhelm computer and human systems alike, and some traders began referring grimly to the day as “Black Thursday.”
But in the end, Thursday was not as black as it had seemed. After briefly sinking below 10,000, the Dow ended down 347.80, or 3.2 percent, at 10,520.32. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropped 37.75 points, or 3.24 percent, to close at 1,128.15, and the Nasdaq was down 82.65 points, or 3.44 percent, at 2,319.64.
But up and down Wall Street, and across the nation, many investors were dumbstruck. Experts groped for explanations as blue-chip stocks like Procter & Gamble, Philip Morris and Accenture plunged. At one point, Accenture fell more than 99 percent to a penny. P.&G. plunged to $39.37 from more than $60 within minutes.
The height of panic on Thursday was reached shortly after lunchtime in the United States. First some currencies began to fall rapidly, with the euro suffering especially against the Japanese yen.
That could have been an indication that some large traders were unwinding positions. It has been popular to borrow yen at low interest rates and then use the money to speculate in higher yielding assets denominated in other currencies. Anyone unwinding such a trade would buy yen to repay the loan.
Then there's the U.K. election, which didn't go as planned for the Liberal Democrats:
The swing so far from Labour to Conservatives with 250 results in the bag is a little lower than before, at 5.6%. The Tories' share of the popular vote is 34.9%, Labour is on 28.3% and the LibDems on 21%. Compare that with the average of nine main pollsters' final predictions before the elections: 35.6% for the Tories, 27.6% for Labour and 27.4% for the Liberal Democrats. The Tories a little down, Labour a little up and Lib Dems bafflingly down. Still more than half of all seats to go, though.
That was about an hour ago. It's dawn in London right now, and no one knows who'll be in Number 10 at dusk. If no party has an outright majority in Parliament at the end of voting, Gordon Brown will have the right to form another government—but you can bet the UK will have elections again in a few months. This is the most exciting UK election since 1974.
 Disclosure: Accenture owns most of Avanade, my employer.