As Wall Street tumbles, President Barack Obama offered up some investing advice on Tuesday, telling a wary nation that stocks are becoming a "a potentially good deal" for those willing to think long term. The White House later cautioned people not to read too much into the statement.
Obama also said he will not base policy on what he called the "day-to-day gyrations of the stock market." The Dow Jones industrial average fell again Tuesday after plunging on Monday to it lowest level in more than 11 years.
The index has lost more than half its value since a record peak in October 2007. The toll on retirement plans, college savings and nest eggs has been huge.
"You know, the stock market is sort of like a tracking poll in politics," Obama said during an appearance with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "It bobs up and down day to day, and if you spend all your time worrying about that, then you're probably going to get the long-term strategy wrong."
Yet lately, Wall Street's direction has been down, period. Investors are in despair over the state of financial companies, the deepening scope of the recession and doubts about the government's various attempts to bolster the banking sector and create jobs.
Obama says those plans will work.
"I'm absolutely confident that credit is going to be flowing again, that businesses are going to start seeing opportunities for investment," he said. "They're going to start hiring again. People are going to be back to work."
The White House is out for a balance. Obama and his aides must recognize the depth of public worry and fear about the unraveling stock market, yet keep trying to get people to understand that Wall Street is just one, volatile measure.
Obama said his focus is on the long-term recovery of the U.S. and world economy. He said lax regulation and risky, faulty investing have put a beating on the banking sector, which in turn has resulted in a lot of losses.
"It's not surprising that the market is hurting as a consequence," Obama said.
And then he sounded a bit like a financial adviser by referring to a common measure used to assess whether a stock is overvalued or undervalued.
"What you're now seeing is profit and earning ratios starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal," he said, "if you've got a long-term perspective on it."
Was that the president telling people to buy stocks?
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs urged caution. He said people shouldn't "overly read into" any suggestion that they should buy or sell in their particular portfolio. Asked again to calibrate exactly what Obama meant, Gibbs said: "I guess I didn't read into it as much as many people may have."
In his comments with Brown, Obama urged the American people to take a longer view as massive efforts to reshape the economy unfold.
"We are cleaning up a mess," he said. "It's going to be sort of full of fits and starts in terms of getting the mess cleaned up, but it's going to get cleaned up."