Stocks Close Lower But Avoid Huge Selloff

Stocks ended the day significantly lower but avoided a catastrophe, as an orderly selloff staved off what some thought would be a massive market capitulation.

Indexes closed Friday off more than 3 percent, bad but far less than the calamity predicted before the opening bell.

"The money on the sidelines didn't get put to work today," Duncan Niederauer, CEO of NYSE Euronext, said on CNBC. "I think everyone's going to catch their breath over the weekend and we'll reevaluate on Monday."

For all three major U.S. stock indexes, Friday's session marked their lowest closing levels since the spring of 2003. It was a painful week, with the Dow falling about 5.4 percent, the Nasdaq down 9.3 percent and the S&P 500 off 6.8 percent.

An anticipated washout never materialized on Friday. Stock futures hit limit lows before the opening bell after near-hysteria driven by a sharp drop in foreign stock indexes but it failed to carry over fully to Wall Street.

"When we saw what happened overseas last night, I think everybody got on the bandwagon and said, 'Here's the capitulation,' " Ned Riley, of Riley Asset Management, said on CNBC.

But no capitulation was in sight as stocks hit their lows for the day right after the opening bell.

Several components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average waded into positive ground after the bluechip index spent most of the day in red numbers. Microsoft and AT&T had the best day on the Dow.

Not everyone was happy that a washout never materialized. Analysts who thought a steeper decline in stocks would bring about a bottom were let down.

"The action this morning was somewhat disappointing," Cashin said earlier on CNBC. "There was no true sense of capitulation. Certainly what we saw in Asia and Europe indicated much heavier selling."

Massive losses also were tempered when existing home sales numbers came in better than expected.

In fact, there were even calls for investors to start getting back into stocks.

"Stocks are cheap and they're going to prove that over the next couple of weeks," Art Hogan, managing director at Jefferies, said on CNBC, where he already has called a market bottom. "We're having a fire sale on stocks right now, and it's time to get in and start buying them."

The damage was spread fairly evenly, with the financial and energy sectors leading the way.

Banks, Tech Leaders Take Biggest Hit

Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs were among the broker-banks posting big losses.

One of the few commercial banks to see gains was PNC , which said it will acquire National City in an all-stock deal worth $3.2 billion. The price equates to $2.23 a share, 19 percent below where Nat City closed Thursday, and the company shares dropped accordingly.

A panel of CNBC experts tries to make sense of the market. See video at left.

Energy stocks got slammed despite OPEC's efforts to prop up oil prices. BP plunged as did Dow component ExxonMobil .

Technology shares were faring no better.

Yahoo led the Nasdaqlower after it said it is expected to unveil plans to build a new facility in Nebraska, despite announcing job cuts of at least 1,500 only days before.

In addition, Apple and Google both were substantially lower.

Stocks in positive territory were difficult to find, but there were a few.

Nvidia and Broadcom posted green numbers on the Nasdaq, while home builder D.R. Horton was one of the few gainers on the S&P 500.

As a group, precious metals did the best, led by Barrick Gold.

Oil lost about $4 a barrel even as OPEC announced an output cut of 1.5 million barrels per day from Nov. 1. Gasoline prices continued to be in freefall, with the regular unleaded dropping nationally to an average of $2.78 a gallon, nearly a dollar off the $3.71 average of a month ago, according to AAA.

Volatility returned to the market in a big way, with both the stock Volatility Index and the oil VIX soaring .

Market breadth was strongly negative on the New York Stock Exchange, with losers beating gainers more than 5 to 1 on light volume of about 1.3 billion shares. There were nearly 800 new lows and no new highs.