Stocks Tanks for Second Straight Day

Wall Street plunges 440+ on reports of slumping demand and weak retail sales.

Nov. 6, 2008— -- NEW YORK (AP) -- Wall Street plunged for a second day, triggered by computer gear maker Cisco Systems warning of slumping demand and retailers reporting weak sales for October. Concerns about widespread economic weakness sent the major stock indexes down more than 4 percent Thursday, including the Dow Jones industrial average, which tumbled more than 425 points.

Comments from Cisco that it saw a steep drop in orders in October and reports from retailers that consumers are skipping trips to the mall provided fresh evidence of the economy's struggles. While sales at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. benefited from bargain-seekers, some specialty retailers posted huge drops in monthly sales.

Adding to investors' list of worries, the Labor Department said the number of people continuing to draw unemployment benefits jumped to a 25-year high, increasing by 122,000 to 3.84 million in late October. It marked the highest level since late February 1983, when the economy was being buffeted by a protracted recession.

While new claims for unemployment benefits dipped by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted level of 481,000 last week, the levels remain elevated. The findings added to the market's unease ahead of Friday's October employment report, a widely watched barometer of the economy's health.

"I think everybody kind of simultaneously -- the consumers and businesses -- is tightening belts so that's triggering a reasonably precipitous slowdown that's widespread," said Ed Hyland, global investment specialist at J.P. Morgan's Private Bank. "This is something that we haven't really seen, this level of this rapid and significant pullback both in the market and the economy."

Thursday's rout follows a drop of more than 5 percent in the market Wednesday that saw the Dow plunge nearly 500 points as investors fretted that weak readings on employment and downcast profit forecasts and job cuts from financial companies to steelmakers signaled broad economic troubles.

Still, the market's two-day slide follows an enormous run-up since last week so some pullback was expected, analysts said. Through the six sessions that ended Tuesday, the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 index, surged 18.3 percent.

Richard Campagna, chief investment officer at Provident Investment Counsel in Pasadena, Calif., contends the market's pullback isn't surprising given the enormity of the recent run-up. He said the weak economic readings shouldn't come as a surprise given a freeze in credit markets that has disrupted lending and other economic activity since September.

Campagna said the light volume and overall fear among investors is exacerbating the market's volatility.

"Some people are pushing this market around more than they should be out of fear," he said. Many everyday investors are sitting on the sidelines, he said. "Everyone has been shellshocked with the moves in the market."

In late afternoon trading, the Dow fell 431.69, or 4.72 percent, to 8,707.58. The blue chips have fallen as much as 454 in the session but remain above 7,882.51, their Oct. 10 trading low from the market's yearlong decline.

Broader stock indicators also posted sharp losses. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 45.96, or 4.82 percent, to 906.81, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 63.68, or 3.79 percent, to 1,617.96.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 13.71, or 2.66 percent, to 500.93.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 5 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.05 billion shares. Analysts noted that the volume of the declines is light, raising some questions about the conviction of the moves.

The dollar traded mixed against most other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Light, sweet crude fell $4.36 to $60.94 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as fears of a slowing economy led to predictions demand will fall.

The latest round of economic worries largely overshadowed interest rate cuts by central banks in Europe as stocks there tumbled after the moves. The Bank of England slashed its key interest rate by a bold 1.5 percentage points Thursday; the Swiss Central Bank cut its own key rate by a surprising half-point; and the European Central Bank lowered its key rate by a half-point.

Britain's FTSE 100 fell 5.70 percent, Germany's DAX index fell 6.84 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 6.38 percent. In Asian trading, Japan's Nikkei index closed down 6.53 percent, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 7.08 percent.

Cisco's comments added to investors' nervousness and weighed on the technology-heavy Nasdaq. The world's largest maker of computer networking gear said orders declined sharply last month, suggesting to the market that the weak economy and tight credit markets are taking a larger-than-expected toll on many companies around the world. Cisco fell 31 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $17.08.

A range of industries have been bruised by the economy. Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. reduced its annual earnings forecast Thursday to less than a third of what it was in previous fiscal year. Toyota tumbled $13.08, or 16.3 percent, to $67.29. Other automakers fell ahead of quarterly results due Friday. General Motors Corp. fell 70 cents, or 12.6 percent, to $4.86, while Ford Motor Co. fell 13 cents, or 6.2 percent, to $1.96.

53.53 -0.60 -1.11

Among retailers, Wal-Mart fell 60 cents to $53.53, while specialty names Limited Stores Inc. fell 98 cents, or 8.5 percent, to $10.53 and Ann Taylor Stores Corp. fell $3.17, or 26 percent, to $8.85.

The drop in oil weighed on energy stocks. Exxon Mobil Corp. fell $3.52, or 4.8 percent, to $70.17, while Chevron Corp. fell $4.64, or 6.2 percent, to $70.24.

Some names seen as safer bets in a rough economy saw more moderate selling. Procter & Gamble Co., the maker of Tide detergent and Pampers diapers, fell 49 cents to $63.32.

Hyland said the latest economic news are a reminder that while the market might be off its Oct. 10 lows following an array of government moves to revive lending and shore up confidence in the markets the medicine for the markets will take some time to work.

"I think that we're in a bottoming process but the market will tend to have three, four, or five bottoms as it goes through the bear market," he said.

Even the election, which had been one area of uncertainty, now presents a new set of questions, he said, even though the market largely had expected an Obama win.

"How does an Obama administration deal with it and what are the implications?"

Hyland said he doesn't attribute much of the selling to hedge funds as many of them have largely already cashed out of some investments to meet shareholder redemptions. Nov. 15 is the cutoff for shareholders to notify fund managers of their intent to cash out investments before year-end. But he said a sudden influx of "sell" orders could always spook hedge funds into dumping more investments.

Bank-to-bank lending rates fell for the 19th straight day, a sign that banks are becoming more willing to lend. The London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, for three-month dollar loans dipped to 2.39 percent from 2.51 percent.

The three-month Treasury bill, considered the ultimate safe asset, saw its yield dip further to 0.32 percent from 0.42 percent late Wednesday. In general, a lower yield means higher demand, but it is also affected by the federal funds rate.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 3.70 percent from 3.73 percent late Wednesday.