The Down-Up-Down Day on Wall Street

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Silver linings, alas, aren't liquid assets. And so, the Dow Jones Industrial Average scratched its head over how to interpret the decision by six central banks, including the Fed, to lower their key lending rates — the average moving first slightly up, then down, then up again till the last 15 minutes of the day when suddenly, it all came back down, closing down more than 189 points at 9258.10.

For a while, it seemed as if the market lemons were on the rebound. Never mind that aluminum producer Alcoa missed earnings estimates after hours yesterday with a 52% drop in profit. Or that Bank of America was down again, 3.7% at one point, on continued worries over its need to recapitalize. Other financials, which had been battered hard on Tuesday, like J.P. MorganChase & Co. and Citigroup, seemed to be heading up significantly, as was bellwether General Electric, which had seen its shares hit hard the last few months over its exposure to the credit crunch. By day's end, however, J.P. MorganChase was down slightly while GE and Citi managed only slim gains.

Before the market opened — a day before the one-year anniversary of its record high — Sal Buccellato, a currency trader with Gallant FX, warned that not everyone was going to enjoy the end-of-the-year holidays, but he was more optimistic over the long term. Buccelato — who said he made money during the bloodletting — saw a silver lining even for those who lose their jobs. "They'll take a nine-month vacation and the government will pay for that, too" — referring to severance packages, unemployment benefits, unused time-off and other subsidies that would come their way. Greg Barton, an equities trader with NWT Financial, was also optimistic as the trading day began, predicting a modest bounce by day's end. After the bounce fizzled at the close of trading, Barton said volatility remains because there's no real consensus which way the market is going. "When it's up, people want to sell. When it's down, people want to buy."

The upward momentum that seemed to dominate in the afternoon came because of the coordinated action between the central banks of the U.S. — which cut its rate half a point to 1.5% — the E.U., the U.K., Canada, Sweden and Switzerland, which all also cut their key lending rates. The decision, which came ahead of the Federal Reserve's scheduled meeting October 28-29 to debate a rate cut, was on the heels of consecutive drops in major market indices around the world and the belief that, thanks to falling commodity prices, inflation is no longer the markets' major problem. But in the end, the market only gave proof of one of its old traits: fickleness.

For those seeking more intangible signs, the mood outside the exchange could be an omen that some investors are still hanging in. The tourists there certainly had no idea what was up or what was down. Swiss tourists Luca Barmettler and Hodel Ramona, on holiday for the past week, were curious when asked about recent market volatility. They asked if the U.S.'s $700 billion bailout plan had passed. When told it had, Luca was almost Zenlike about the future. Good things take time, he said. "Everything bad happens fast." If the tourists are indicators, Wall Street symbols, at least, appear to be retaining their values.

See photos of the global financial crisis here.

Click here for TIME's pictures of the week.