Dow posts sixth straight monthly loss, drops 11.7% in February

Stocks ended another unforgiving month with a steep loss — one that left the Dow Jones industrial average at less than half its record high.

The day's news unsettled investors. Citigroup agreed to turn over a big piece of itself to the government, a move that fanned worries that other banks would face crippling trouble with bad debt. General Electric slashed its quarterly dividend by 68%. Both companies are part of the Dow Jones industrial average, which fell 119 points.

And the government's gross domestic product report showed that the economy fell at a 6.2% annual pace at the end of last year, a much faster than expected pace.

For investors, it all added up to a prolonged and increasingly painful recession.

"I don't think there is the confidence that the recovery is going to happen very quickly. It's going to take time," said Scott Fullman, director of derivatives investment strategy for WJB Capital Group in New York.

The Dow fell 119.15, or 1.7%, to close Friday at 7,062.93. The S&P 500 index fell 17.74, or 2.4%, to 735.09, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 13.63, or 1%, to 1,377.84.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 3.93, or 1%, to 389.02.

Two stocks fell for every one that advanced on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to a heavy 8.44 billion shares, up from Thursday's 6.48 billion.

Some analysts said the market's slide could have been worse — the major indexes finished well above their lows.

Dan Cook, senior market analyst at IG Markets in Chicago, said Wall Street's ability to show some recovery Friday despite the onslaught of bad news is a good sign.

"We have become somewhat callous to these news announcements," he said.

Nonetheless, the market's stats once again showed how troubled Wall Street and the economy are:

• The Dow, at its lowest close since May 1, 1997, is now down 50.1% from its record high of 14,164.53 reached in October 2007. It came within 34 points of 7,000, a level it hasn't fallen below since October 1997.

• The Standard & Poor's 500 index breached its Nov. 21 trading low of 741.02, which came during the height of the credit crisis. Friday's finish was the lowest for the index since Dec. 18, 1996.

• The Dow's 11.7% loss in February was its worst since 1933, when it fell 15.6%, and its sixth straight monthly drop. The half-year slide totals 38.8%, the worst since 1932, when it fell 45%.

The S&P 500 index fell 11% for the month. It was the second-worst February for the index, topped only by an 18.4% slide in 1933. It was the index's fifth monthly drop in six months; it managed a slender gain of 0.8% in December.

• The Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 index, which reflects nearly all stocks traded in America, lost 10.3% for the month, its worst slump since October. That's a paper loss of $1 trillion. Since its October 2007 peak, the Wilshire 5000 is down 52.7%, or $10.4 trillion.

The losses in the final session of the month came as Wall Street had been hoping that stabilizing Citigroup would help ease worries about the beaten-down bank stocks and remove some of their questions about the prospects for the industry.

But analysts said the loss to regular shareholders from the government's move touched off worries that other banks could see their shares hit as well.

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