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Patriotic Wall Street Sees No Rally Monday - 2001-09-17

There were signs of patriotism all over Wall Street Monday, but no patriotism rally. U.S. stock prices fell sharply on the first day of trading since terrorists struck at the heart of the world's financial center last Tuesday.

Wall Street opened on a solemn note - two minutes of silence and a refrain of "God Bless America." Top state and city officials were at the podium. So was the U.S. Treasury Secretary - all intended to boost confidence.

But investors apparently were concerned about the consequences of the terror attack on an already slowing U.S. economy. Airline and insurance stocks plunged. There was not much that was up Monday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell almost 685 points, nearly seven percent, to 8,920, its lowest level since late 1998. The tech-weighted Nasdaq composite sank almost seven percent, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 53 points, just under five percent.

Still, analysts say there was no sense of panic on Wall Street. That was good news. Many believe it will take a while for the markets to absorb the uncertainties.

The markets plunged despite confidence-building measures. The Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, announced a surprise interest rate cut, the eighth this year. And rules were relaxed so corporations can buy back their shares at any time of the day.

Hardwick Simmons, the chairman of the Nasdaq market, saw no reason for alarm. "Right now it's just sit and watch," he said. "You've got some companies in there with share buyback programs. They probably aren't going to buy now at these levels. But if the markets get a little bit lower, they may well come in. So right now you've got a lot of people sitting there watching the market, and the market is performing admirably."

James Riefe, one of the leading mutual fund managers, says he told his clients to stay calm and do very little until the economic picture becomes more clear. "We'll have to wait and see what's going to happen these next few weeks and the real world settles in, and the parts of the economy that will remain strong, and the parts of the economy that are going to suffer a bit," he said.

Overall, analysts were pleased that the markets operated with no technical problems after all that devastation in lower Manhattan. Imagine the chaos, said one expert, if computer and power systems failed in the course of trading.