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Wall Street amazes self with day of astounding dullness

November 3, 2008 |  4:44 pm

Finally -- an incredibly boring day in the stock market.

After last month’s harrowing volatility, Wall Street today took an unofficial holiday ahead of the election.

The Dow Jones industrial average finished with a loss of 5.18 points, or less than 0.1%, at 9,319.83. It was the smallest net gain or loss for any session since June 30.

Broader market indexes also were little changed amid light trading.

Nysenov3_2 More amazing, after what we’ve lived through since Labor Day, was the lack of volatility during trading today: From the high early in the session to the low just after noon PST, the Dow swung just 155 points. It was the smallest intraday move since Sept. 3.

And there were none of the usual end-of-session pyrotechnics.

"Today was abnormally normal," said Richard Sparks, equity analyst at Schaeffer’s Investment Research in Cincinnati.

Some people speculated that this was a marketwide day for playing hooky -- a mental-health day for a lot of Wall Street players after the grueling trading of the last two months.

As for the election, the market believes the polls, which point to victory for Democrat Barack Obama.

Volatility is a natural response to uncertainty. The presidential election, at least, no longer is a source of uncertainty to many market pros. "Everybody knows who’s going to win," said Barry Savitz, a senior managing partner at Greenwich Prime Trading Group in Stamford, Conn.

Still, uncertainty remains in excess supply on other issues -- including the makeup of the new Congress. A big gain for the Democrats, coupled with an Obama victory, could fuel investor concern about Democratic policies, particularly on taxes.

But what the market really would like to know is how bad a recession we’re facing, and when it will end. New data today on the manufacturing sector and on car sales were grim.

Bob Doll, chief investment officer of money manager BlackRock Inc. in New York, says investors are torn between the seemingly cheap levels of many stocks and fear of a "deeper-than-typical" recession.

"The collision of these positive and negative forces will likely result in continued high levels of volatility," he said.

Don’t put away your helmet quite yet.

Photo: Winners of the ING New York City Marathon ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange today. Credit: Associated Press