Dow falls below 22,000 after Steven Mnuchin’s odd statement fails to calm markets

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The Dow fell below 22,000 on Monday as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s attempts to calm investors backfired.

Mnuchin on Sunday released an unusual statement to say he had called the CEOs of the country’s biggest banks. He said the executives assured him their banks are healthy and have “ample liquidity” to lend to consumers and businesses. “Markets continue to function properly,” he said.

“This is the type of announcement that raises the question of whether Treasury sees problems that the rest of the market is missing,” Cowen & Co. analyst Jaret Seiberg wrote in a note to clients. “Not only did he consult with the biggest banks, but he is talking to all of the financial regulators on Christmas Eve. We do not see this type of announcement as constructive.”

Mnuchin plans to convene a call on Monday with the President’s Working Group on financial markets, which includes the chairman of the Federal Reserve and top market and business regulators.

Stocks are on pace for their worst December since the Great Depression. On Friday, the Dow ended its worst week since 2008. The Nasdaq is in a bear market.

“It raises the question of why Treasury needs to reassure if everything is okay,” Seiberg wrote.

The Dow, which last hit 22,000 in September 2017, was about 450 points lower in morning trading. The S&P 500 was down 1.5%, while the Nasdaq fell 1.2%. Shares in JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC), Goldman Sachs (GS), Bank of America (BAC) and Citi (C) all lost ground.

Adding to the shaky start on Monday: The partial shutdown of the federal government will continue at least until Thursday, and possibly into January. Although the closure of some government services isn’t expected to hurt the economy, the inability of lawmakers and President Donald Trump to put politics aside to enact a budget is unnerving to investors.

“The confusion and disorder surrounding this week’s spending debate suggest fiscal deadlines in 2019 — including the debt limit deadline, which we expect to fall between August to October — could be more disruptive than they have been since the 2011-2013 period,” Goldman Sachs economists wrote in a research note.

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