There’s an old market axiom that says as goes January, so goes the market. As this one draws to a close we find the S&P 500 down 7.5% as the economy’s descent continues. According to Commerce this morning, the economy contracted at a 3.8% annualized rate in the fourth quarter. If the inventory buildup which occurred in the fourth quarter is excluded, the economy actually contracted 5.1%, the worst in 28 years. As reported, it is the worst since 1982. The economy shrank at a 0.5% annual rate from July through September. The back-to-back contraction is the first since 1991. For all of 2008, the economy expanded 1.3% helped by exports and government tax rebates in the first half of the year. The GDP report is the first for the quarter and will be revised in February and March as more information becomes available.

High hopes for a fresh new year, a new Administration, and a massive new stimulus plan gave the markets new life for a few weeks. We wonder though whether investors’ expectations will withstand the continuing drone of bad economic reports, surely to come for the next several months. The early read suggests yes, expectations for recovery late this year are holding.

News continues worsen in financial markets throughout the world. No economy is free from the carnage with more than $25 trillion erased from global equities in 2008. The Dow Jones Industrials index is now down more than 43% from its record high a year ago. This week represents the worst for the S&P 500 since 1933.

Few symbols of America’s culture better explain us as a nation than the home. From the early days when European settlers fled various forms of tyranny to today, the desire to come home to one’s own has motivated us to work harder and perhaps to risk more. As George Bailey‘s father put it in It’s a Wonderful Life when describing their small Building and Loan; “you know, George, I feel that in a small way we are doing something important.  Satisfying a fundamental urge. It's deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace. And we're helping him get those things in our shabby little office.”