NEW YORK – There won't be any fond farewell to 2001 for most investors. Stocks fell to unimaginable lows in a bear market worsened by terrible corporate earnings, a recession and a terrorist attack on Wall Street itself.
The three major market indexes ended the year significantly below where they started -- the second straight loss after a devastating 2000 performance.
The last, and only, other time all three indexes have fallen two years in a row was in 1973 and 1974, when the country was engulfed by recession and an energy crisis. The Dow did have a losing streak of its own in 1977 and 1978.
This year, the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 7 percent, or 765.35 points, to end the year at 10,021.50. Analysts said continued declines in technology stocks, including Hewlett-Packard, were to blame -- as well as losses in more traditional companies, such as Merck, whose stock price had climbed in 2000 as investors looked for less-risky buys.
The Nasdaq composite index slid more than 21 percent, or 520.12 points, during the year to close at 1,950.40. The decline was severe, but not as painful as in 2000, when the index lost nearly 40 percent of its value. Investors punished tech stocks when the sector failed to live up to expectations of a midyear turnaround.
Late in 2001, Wall Street appeared to give the sector another try, though. The index rebounded 37 percent from the selloff that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. Some big-cap tech stocks, including Microsoft and Intel, actually ended the year higher. But analysts were cautious about reading too much into the rally.
"Part of it was a makeup rally for the losses after 9-11, and about 10 percent of it was actually a legitimate rally as Wall Street began expecting a recovery in 2002," said Charles Pradilla, chief investment officer at SG Cowen Securities.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index, the broadest measure of big-cap stocks, tumbled 13 percent, or 172.20 points, to 1,148.08 in 2001. Again, the culprits were losses in technology and pricey non-tech issues.
The poor performances are especially striking given that less than two years ago, all three indexes had reached their all-time high closes. The Dow has fallen 14.5 percent from its 11,722.98 peak in January 2000; the Nasdaq has tumbled 61.4 percent from the 5,048.62 level reached in March 2000; and the S&P has lost 24.8 percent since making its high of 1,527.46 in March 2000.
Although there were fewer dot-com stocks to go out of business this year, investors didn't hesitate to sell technology stocks they feared were overvalued or would disappoint in the short term. Sun Microsystems closed Monday at $12.35, less than half of where it began 2001. Cisco Systems, another tech darling, dropped by more than half to close the year at $18.11.
Wall Street was also severely shaken by the downfall of Enron, which plunged from nearly $80 at the beginning of the year to 60 cents on Monday. The energy company, which had been on many stock picker's lists at the beginning of the year, imploded after a loss of confidence by investors forced the company into bankruptcy court.
"This has been a very difficult year for everyone," said Bill Barker, investment consultant at RBC Dain Rauscher. "But I'm hopeful that we're not doomed to repeat our mistakes of the last few years. People are a lot more cautious now than they were before."