Wall Street suffered its worst day in nearly two years yesterday, with the Dow Jones industrial average falling 191 points for its third...
NEW YORK — Wall Street suffered its worst day in nearly two years yesterday, with the Dow Jones industrial average falling 191 points for its third straight triple-digit loss. Deepening concerns over economic growth and higher prices led to the worst week of trading since August.
The Dow fell 191.24, or 1.86 percent, to 10,087.51, after falling 125 points Thursday and 104 points Wednesday. It was the Dow’s lowest close since Nov. 2.
Broader stock indicators also lost considerable ground. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 38.56, or 1.98 percent, to 1,908.15 for its worst showing since Oct. 25.
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The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 19.43, or 1.67 percent, at 1,142.62, its lowest level since Nov. 3.
Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, lost 38 cents a share to close at $24.46. Boeing, also a Dow stock, lost $1.16 to $57.
An already uneasy market began the biggest one-day sell-off since May 19, 2003, after the Federal Reserve reported drops in manufacturing and other industrial production, and a Labor Department report showed higher oil costs driving up import prices.
The sell-off was bolstered by lower-than-expected profits from IBM, which led to fears that technology spending would be substantially worse than expected this year. Strong earnings from General Electric and Citigroup were overlooked, but analysts said earnings would be a key factor in overcoming the slump.
“Earnings are really the only hope for this market,” said Brian Pears, head equity trader at Victory Capital Management in Cleveland. “If, on the whole, earnings can go up, then we might be able to overcome oil and inflation and all the other things.”
All three indexes set five-month lows for the second straight session, prompted by disappointing earnings in the tech sector and questions about economic growth. With yesterday’s losses, it was the first time the Dow lost 100 points three sessions in a row since late January 2003.
For the week, the Dow lost 3.57 percent, the S&P 500 was down 3.27 percent, and the Nasdaq tumbled 4.56 percent. The major indexes are also at their lowest points of 2005, with the Nasdaq down 12.29 percent, the Dow falling 6.45 percent and the S&P having lost 5.72 percent.
Crude-oil prices were lower and continued a two-week downtrend, with a barrel of light crude settling at $50.49, down 64 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The recent drop in crude futures notwithstanding, higher oil prices are to blame for the jump in import prices, the Labor Department said. Import costs rose 1.8 percent in March, but even without oil, prices rose 0.3 percent, more than the 0.2 percent rise economists had expected.
“There’s a lot of evidence that when we have oil averaging $53 or $54 per barrel, that’s inflationary, and we got a whiff of that today in the import prices,” said Peter Cardillo, chief strategist and senior vice president with S.W. Bach & Co. “It doesn’t help that we’re starting to see the economy enter a slowing mode heading into the second quarter here.”
IBM said an inability to close deals before the end of the quarter, combined with higher pension costs, dragged on its earnings. The technology company, which missed Wall Street forecasts by 6 cents per share, hinted at a major restructuring this year. IBM tumbled $6.94, or 8.3 percent to $76.60, and was the biggest loser on the Dow.
General Electric rose 25 cents to $35.75 after the industrial and media conglomerate reported a 25 percent jump in first-quarter profits, with nine of the company’s 11 disparate divisions reporting double-digit growth. The company’s forecasts for the second quarter and full year were in line with Wall Street’s estimates.
Citigroup beat Wall Street’s expectations for its quarterly profits by 2 cents per share, with profits rising a modest 3 percent year-over-year. The financial company also said its board had authorized the repurchase of an additional $15 billion in stock. Citigroup added 35 cents to $45.75.
It’s not surprising investors have turned defensive, said Joseph Battipaglia, chief investment officer at Ryan Beck & Co. They have so many questions: How aggressive will the Federal Reserve be as it tightens interest rates? What impact will rates have on the economy? What does the corporate-profit picture hold?
“And now they’re believing that we are entering a period of economic slowdown. This is where it gets difficult,” Battipaglia said. “No one would argue the economy is simmering down. But how far down it simmers is the major question.”
In 2004, the second year of the recovery following the bear market, investors benefited from a 4 percent rate of growth in gross domestic product; this year most think it will be about 3 percent. But while economic growth is slowing, there are still good fundamental underpinnings.
“I think the economy is on solid footing and we’re in the middle innings of an expansion and we have a way to go,” Battipaglia said. “The message for small investors is, don’t make changes to your portfolio allocation because the momentum of the moment is putting you out of favor.”
The market may be overreacting to the prospect of slower growth in consumer spending, analysts said. Consumers, whose spending accounts for 70 percent of the economy, barely blinked during the recession; car sales and home sales were strong, and remain so. It’s probably not realistic to expect that pace to increase.
Associated Press reporter Meg Richards contributed to this report.