Nobody is sitting around complaining about the "summer doldrums" on Wall Street this year.
By long-standing tradition, late summer used to be a sleepy, sluggish season in the financial markets, with many investors on vacation and hardly any business or political news to stimulate trading activity.But in recent years, that image has become increasingly outdated. August 1998 has produced wild swings in stock prices on some of the heaviest buying-and-selling volume ever, against a background of economic worries and political turbulence arising from the Monica Lewinsky case in Washington.
"This is a punishing stock market," says Greg Smith, investment strategist at Prudential Securities. "When will this change? Not soon."
Technology has certainly played a role in energizing the summer atmosphere on the Street. Thanks to tools such as cellular phones and laptop computers, it's as easy to trade stocks feverishly from a beach house or mountain cabin as it is from a brokerage office downtown.
Reaction times in the market to news developments have been shrinking for years. Where investors once might have waited until after Labor Day to assess prospects for the fall, winter and beyond, the process clearly doesn't work that way any more.
Other forces keeping the Street wide awake are the professionalization and institutionalization of the marketplace.
Individual investors with only their own money to worry about can, if they choose, unplug and take a vacation whenever they wish. But mutual-fund management companies and other investing institutions, with their fiduciary responsibilities overseeing their shareholders' and clients' money, can't ever go off watch.
So they stay busy day by day assessing issues such as the global effects of Asia's financial problems, which are unsettling.
"I continue to believe we are either in or on the verge of a bear market," asserts Baritone Biggs, global strategist at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.
A good many other observers, however, insist that the recent declines are a healthy development that has helped to cool down a market that was in danger of getting too hot.
"This is a classic correction, and the bull market isn't over," maintains Kenneth Fisher, chief executive of the investment management firm of Fisher Investments in Woodside, Calif.
"Bear markets don't begin with low interest rates, a strong dollar and a healthy bond market. Corrections, however, can occur for no good reason and because of news everyone has already heard.
"They're motivated by psychology and will reverse rather quickly when people realize they're stampeding for no reason. This is a classic correction, and you can't have a healthy bull market without them."
Since the stock market has risen strongly, on balance, for the past several years, past instances in which prices have suffered short-lived setbacks are easily forgotten.
"The short-term trend in stock prices, as we define it, has turned down," says Hugh Johnson at the regional brokerage firm of First Albany Corp. in Albany, N.Y. "This has happened 10 times since 1995 and has been reversed within a few weeks each time."