You know Wall Street, always on to the next thing before the last one is even finished.
Increasing optimism about loans to the U.S. auto industry helped drive major indexes out of negative territory, albeit fleetingly. General Motors was the top gainer on the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500, while Ford was among the top gainers on the Nasdaq.
Two-thirds of the Dow 30 were lower at the open amid uncertainty about Lehman Brothers and a disappointing reading on retail sales; that was pared to about half by midday as investors weighed the auto optimism against uncertainty surrounding the financials. (Track the Dow winners & losers.)
General Motors jumped more than 5 percent, making it once again the Dow's top performer, as a growing chorus of analysts say it's increasingly likely that government money is on the way for U.S. auto makers to help ease liquidity concerns.
Goldman Sachs today said it is "more likely than not" that government money is coming before Congress adjourns at the end of the month. That echoed sentiment a day earlier from JPMorgan.
GM shares are up nearly 40 percent since they hit $10 at the end of August. Shares of rival Ford are up roughly 14 percent in that amount of time.
Crude oil briefly dropped below $100 a barrel after trading close to $102 earlier as Hurricane Ike barreled toward the Texas Gulf Coast.
Financials were the primary source of discontent but turned mixed by midday as some banks -- including Washington Mutual -- turned higher.
The market breathed a sigh of disappointment as 6 a.m. ET came and went with nary an announcement from Lehman Brothers.
"Bear Stearns was supposed to end it. … Now they’re talking about Lehman," Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS Financial, told CNBC. "With no deal when the Asian markets opened, people think the negotiations are going to be pushed into the weekend to give them a couple of more hours to look at things. And already, they’re looking for the next rumor-monger victim behind Lehman."
"The frustration is palpable," Cashin said. The real problem is that "everybody’s got to be very careful with their words. Because, even if somebody’s in reasonably good condition, you can cause a run on a bank … This is a very dangerous business," Cashin said.
Lehman Brothers shares dropped more than 10 percent, to the mid-$3 range, after gaining as much as 25 percent premarket amid hopes of a buyout.
The investment bank is still actively working toward finding a buyer, with several big names being bandied about including Barclays, Bank of America and HSBC . Company officials are trying to get a deal wrapped up and announced by Sunday night, people close to the deal tell CNBC.