Reasons for the Dow’s not very big drop today Thursday

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The stock market had an interesting day Thursday, with the Dow down 311 points. How interesting is that? Well, it is the second-biggest one day drop this year. But when you’ve got a number in the 13,000s, subtracting 311 just isn’t something to get too worked up about. Today’s 2.26% drop was just the 94th-biggest the Dow has experienced in the past 20 years. On Oct. 19, 1987, it lost 22.61%. On Oct. 26, 1987, it lost 8.04%. On Oct. 27, 1997, it lost 7.18%. You get the picture.

It’s entirely possible that today’s drop was just meaningless noise. Still, U.S. stock markets are in an interesting place right now, driven by conflicting forces whose interactions nobody can really forecast (not that anybody can ever reliably forecast the market, but it strikes me as especially confusing right now). There’s the booming global economy outside the U.S., which is bringing in big profits for the big, global companies represented in the Dow and the S&P 500. There’s the troubled U.S. housing market, and in particular the troubles it is posing for U.S. consumers accustomed to financing their spending with mortgage refis and home equity loans. Then there are the sudden jitters in the risky end of the corporate loan market, which may mean a lot fewer private equity deals in the months to come, which in turn removes a bunch of potential buyers for the companies on U.S. stock markets. How does all that add up? No idea.