Wall Street tumbled again Wednesday as investors worried that the global economy is poised to weaken even as parts of the credit market slowly show signs of recovery.
The major indexes fell more than 4 percent, including the Dow Jones industrial average, which finished off its lows with a loss of 514 points.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index was the worst performer among the major indexes with a 6.1 percent slide that left it at its lowest level since April 2003.
Corporate profit forecasts, a jump in the dollar and falling commodity prices signaled investors are fearful that an economic slowdown will sweep the globe even if lending begins to approach more normal levels as credit markets ease.
The dollar hit multiyear highs against several other major currencies, weighing on commodity prices.
That hurt materials and energy companies, while the fall in oil gave a boost to airlines. Technology shares fared better than the broader market following quarterly reports from Apple Inc. and Yahoo Inc.
While reduced strains in global credit markets have eased some investors' nervousness about the economy, market anxiety remains as hundreds of companies this week report third-quarter results and issue somewhat murky forecasts that are stirring unease about the economic bumps that may lay ahead.
John Thornton, co-portfolio manager at Stephens Investment Management Group LLC in Houston, said investors' fear has shifted from the immediate concerns about tightness in credit and the resulting difficulty in borrowing to the broader economy as companies come out with their quarterly numbers.
"Even if it weren't for the credit crisis we'd probably be looking toward a pretty tough recession anyway," he said.
"The third-quarter earnings are kind of uninspiring but third quarter hasn't been the real concern of people. I think the concern is the depth and duration of the downturn and the effect it's going to have on earnings."
The Dow fell 514.45, or 5.69 percent, to 8,519.21, after being down as much as 698 points in the final half hour of trading.
Still, the Dow finished above its Oct. 10 closing low of 8,451. The Dow fell 232 points Tuesday after jumping 413 points Monday.
Broader stock indicators also fell Wednesday. The S&P 500 lost 58.27, or 6.10 percent, to 896.78, its lowest close since it finished at 892.01 on April 21, 2003. The decline leaves the index 42.7 percent below its record close of 1,565.15 in October last year.
The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index fell 80.93, or 4.77 percent, to 1,615.75.
CREDIT RATERS GRILLED IN CAPITOL HILL HEARING
Documents presented at a House hearing Wednesday show that pressure from bond and securities issuers translated into inflated credit ratings that put investors at risk. The credit rating companies - Standard & Poor, Moody's and Fitch - made enormous profits as they evaluated mortgage-backed bonds, many of which were given top marks as long as housing prices went up. "Millions of investors rely on them for independent, objective assessments. The rating agencies broke this bond of trust, and federal regulators ignored the warning signs and did nothing to protect the public. The result is that our entire financial system is now at risk," said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Global summit: World leaders will meet Nov. 15 in Washington to address the global financial crisis. The summit will bring together leaders of Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, the United States, the European Union, China, Brazil, India, Russia and South Korea. The White House will also seek input from the winner of the U.S. presidential election. The White House will host a dinner on the eve of the summit.
Bank letter threat: At least a dozen more suspicious letters filled with white powder turned up Wednesday at financial institutions nationwide, but all appear to be harmless, FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said in Washington. The U.S. Postal Service offered a reward of up to $100,000 for help in arresting those who mailed a total of about 50 threatening letters over the last several days to Chase Bank branches and federal regulatory offices in 11 cities.
Corporate losses: Wachovia Corp., which is being bought by Wells Fargo & Co., reported that it swung to a huge loss in the third quarter while drugmaker Merck & Co. said that its quarterly profit fell 28 percent and that it would cut more than 10 percent of its work force.
The "R" word: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown dared to utter the dreaded "R" word Wednesday, confirming what consumers have known for months - that no country can escape the global recession.
Pakistan turns to IMF: Pakistan sought help from the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday to avoid defaulting on billions of dollars in loans. Pakistani economists put the amount needed in the next year at between $5-billion and $8-billion.