NEW YORK MARKET: Get ready for a rollercoaster bond ride

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The Independent Online
US STOCK investors woke up last week with a horse's head in their beds, in the form of bond yields above 6 per cent.

When a similar thing happened to studio head Jack Woltz in the The Godfather, he started screaming and gave in to Don Corleone's demands. Stock investors didn't flinch, however. The market didn't crash. Instead, it closed the week with records. The Dow Jones rose 0.5 per cent to 11,193.70; the S&P 500 closed for the first time above 1,400; and the Nasdaq had its sixth record in seven sessions.

Weak hands were certainly a bit shook up as the bond yield zigzagged above and below the knife's edge of 6 per cent. The market see-sawed all week. But step back a minute and consider: 6 per cent interest rates look high only because people were so scared last autumn by what looked like an imminent collapse of overseas economies that they rushed to the safety of US Treasuries. Bond prices soared, and yields, which move in the opposite direction, fell to 4.72 per cent.

Six per cent is higher than that. But it isn't going to deter any corporation from borrowing money needed to expand. And the prospect of even higher yields will keep big spenders in government at bay. "It was a warning, but it doesn't spell death to the market," said Stephen Gallagher, chief US economist at Societe Generale.

In the bond market, the whiff of fear worked to the advantage of government bond dealers, who wanted to buy $7bn in inflation-indexed notes from the government at the lowest of prices so they could turn around and sell at a profit to bond buyers.

It was a touch that Mr Puzo, who died last Friday, would have appreciated. His tales of Las Vegas include realistic details on the house percentage. His mobsters moved up from the underworld into the legitimate pursuits of gambling and Wall Street.

As if in his honour, the best-performing stock in America on the day he died was Starnet Communications International, which runs an internet casino and licenses gambling software. Starnet traded for about a dollar and a half at the end of 1998. Last Friday it was almost $25.

Because bond yields settled on 6 per cent the game will be played out this week. Markets will take another thrill ride, scaring the daylights out of the meek, churning through stop points, dashing hopes, fanning greed. Meanwhile, Wall Street's families can plan how to gain chips from each other.