Stocks plunged Wednesday as worries about a possible recession rattled a market already worried about whether or not government efforts to rescue the financial system will work.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed nearly 8 percent, or 733.08 points — 350 of which happened in the last hour.
Investors were wary after a slew of dismal economic reports, comments from Fed officials and a profit warning from JPMorgan Chase, sending major indexes on their way to retesting their Friday lows.
The Dow finished at 8577.91 and is now about 100 points above the low it hit last Friday, having made triple-digit moves in 20 of the past 23 sessions.
The S&P 500 shed more than 9 percent and the tech-heavyNasdaq fell about 8.5 percent. The CBOE volatility index, considered the best gauge of fear in the market, jumped 26 percent to 69.25.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said turmoil in the credit markets poses a "significant threat''to an already slowing U.S. economy, suggesting an openness to further interest-rate cuts.
Earlier, San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen delivered some of the strongest language we've seen yet from a Fed official, saying that the U.S. economy appeared to be in a recession as "virtually every major sector of the economy has been hit by the financial shock."
And the Fed had the data to back it up. In it's monthly beige-book report, so named for the color of its cover, the Fed said economic activity in all 12 Fed regions weakenedas businesses anxious about the economy rethought capital investments and consumers curbed spending.
Among the day's other economic news: Producer prices dropped 0.4 percent in September but core PPI, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, shot up 0.4 percent, double the forecast. Retail sales tumbled 1.2 percent last month, the biggest decline in three years. Excluding autos, retail sales fell 0.6 percent, double of what was expected. The NY Fed reported it Empire State gauge of regional manufacturing activity tumbled to minus-24.62, more than double the forecast and the lowest reading since the index was created in 2001.
Today’s retail-sales numbers were an early warning sign of how bad it’s become for consumers – and it’s only going to get worse, said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS.
“The impact on the economy will only really begin to dawn on people in several weeks and maybe a month or so,” Cashin told CNBC. “I think the consumer has actually finally hit the wall and we’re going to see it as we get near Christmas.”
Economists now expect we'll see a contraction in GDP in the third quarter, sooner than expected, as consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of economic activity.
These "early reports spell clear recession in the third quarter as GDP is set for a big drop," Robert Brusca, of Fact and Opinion Economics, wrote in a note to clients following the reports.
JPMorgan shares lost 5.5 percent after the bank reported its profit fell 84 percent, saddled with heavy writedowns from its acquisition last month of Washington Mutual. Earnings beat expectations but revenue missed.
Overall, banks took a beating this morning, with Dow components American Express and Citigroup off about 13 percent and Genworth Financial off 22 percent.
Coca-Cola was the lone gainer on the Dow, climbing 1.1 percent, after the soft-drink maker topped market expectations with a profit of 83 cents a share, excluding items.
Intel lost 5.9 percent after the chip giant reported its profit grew 12 percent and said that revenue growth may be lighter, though the outlook wasn't as dire as previously feared.
Crude oil shed more than $4 to settle at $74.54 a barrel, a 13-month low.
That roughed up energy stocks, which lost more than 10 percent. Dow components Chevron and ExxonMobil skidded 13 percent and 14 percent, respectively.
European Union leaders meet in Brussels, just days after pledging 2.2 trillion euros ($3.02 trillion) to rescue European banks and jolt frozen money markets into life, aiming to press for an overhaul of the world's financial structures after Asia joined western bastions of capitalism in bailing out banks.
Asian markets fell towards the end of the session and although the Nikkei finished in the green, the other markets were down. European stock markets were deep in the red as fears that the bailouts were not enough to avert the crisis resurfaced.
Still to Come:
WEDNESDAY: Final presidental debate between Obama and McCain
THURSDAY: CPI; weekly jobless claims; industrial production; Philly Fed survey; weekly natural-gas inventories; Earnings from Bank of New York Mellon, BB&T, Citigroup, CIT Group, Continental, Harley-Davidson, Hershey, Merrill Lynch, Nokia, PNC Bank, Southwest Air, United Technologies, AMD, Capital One, Google and IBM
FRIDAY: Housing starts; consumer sentiment; Earnings from Gannett, Honeywell and Sony Ericsson
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