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With no progress today on the Congressional stalemate and the debt-ceiling deadline fast approaching, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) sold off today, falling 136 points, or 0.9%. At 14,936, it was the blue chips' lowest close in a month.
Following a weekend where both sides in Washington merely dug in their heels on their respective positions, investors were left scratching their heads at the fiscal standoff. House Speaker John Boehner, who appears to have the greatest ability to reopen the government, said yesterday that he would not allow a clean debt-limit increase to be passed and said that a clean bill to end the shutdown would not pass the House. Today, President Obama challenged Boehner to put the bill to end the shutdown on the House floor for a vote.
While the recent sell-off has been relatively minor, the approaching debt limit could send stocks tumbling as it did in 2011, and the continued incompetence of the government to take care of basic business is an impediment to economic growth and creates unnecessary uncertainty. Indicating investors' increasing unease, the CBOE Volatility Index (VOLATILITYINDICES:^VIX), seen as Wall Street's "fear factor," jumped 16% today to $19.41, its highest level since June. The VIX derives its value from the price of S&P 500 options.
International news was a mixed bag today, as the World Bank cut its growth forecasts for China and most of East Asia. Citing lower commodity prices, the international lender said it now sees growth in China of 7.5% this year and 7.7% next, down from 8.3% and 8%, while it sees growth in the rest of developing East Asia falling by a similar amount to 7.1% and 7.2%.
Meanwhile, Greece said it expected its economy to finally grow next year after six years of a shrinking GDP, projecting a growth rate of 0.6% in 2014. The turnaround is a welcome sign for both a European continent still emerging from recession and a country once mired in bloody protests with financial problems so widespread that many thought it would be forced out of the eurozone. The Greek government also said it anticipates a small budget surplus in 2014, and for the unemployment rate to edge down from 27% to 26%.
On the Dow today, all but three stocks fell with the credit card lenders, Visa (NYSE:V) and American Express (NYSE:AXP) leading the slide. A report released today showed consumer borrowing jumped in August by $13.6 billion from $10.4 billion increase in July, but credit card use fell for the third straight month, declining by $883.4 million as consumers cut back on spending. With the government shutdown adding pressure to the economy, credit card usage and consumer confidence is likely to continue to fall. Visa finished down 2.2%, while American Express lost 1.8%.
Fool contributor Jeremy Bowman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends American Express and Visa and owns shares of Visa. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.