Dow falls 300 points on lending worries
NEW YORK » Wall Street suffered one of its worst losses of 2007 yesterday, leading a global stock market plunge as investors succumbed to months of worry about the mortgage and corporate lending markets. The Dow Jones industrials closed down more than 310 points after earlier skidding nearly 450.
Investors who had been able for months to largely shrug off discomfort about subprime mortgage problems and a more difficult environment for corporate borrowing finally decided it was time to sell after the U.S. Commerce Department issued another disappointing home sales report.
Feeding the plunge were concerns that higher corporate borrowing costs will curb the rapid pace of takeovers that had driven stocks higher this year. Investors also feared the sluggish environment for home sales and continued defaults in subprime loans would spur debt defaults and weigh on corporate earnings.
While stocks plummeted, investors poured money into the safe haven of the bond market. The soaring price of Treasurys pulled yields lower, and the rate on the 10-year note plunged to 4.79 percent from late Wednesday's 4.90 percent.
"Worries that have been out there for the past couple of years are coming to a head right now," said investment strategist Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research Inc. "It's show time."
The Dow plunged 311.50 or 2.26 percent, to 13,473.57 after falling 449.77 in earlier trading. The close was its worst since the 416.02 it lost on Feb. 27, when a drop in the Shanghai stock market rattled world exchanges.
Broader market indicators also slid. The Nasdaq composite index tumbled 48.83, or 1.84 percent, to 2,599.34, while the Standard & Poor's 500 skidded 35.43, or 2.33 percent, to 1,482.66.
The declines triggered a global sell-off in stocks, causing minor losses in Europe to accelerate rapidly along with the Dow's drop. In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 closed down 3.15 percent, Germany's DAX index dropped 2.39 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 2.78 percent.
Declining issues beat advancers by a 14 to 1 basis on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a record 2.78 billion shares.
Investors also reacted negatively as oil prices climbed to almost $77 per barrel during the session, stoking the market's worries about inflation. However, crude pared gains in the afternoon when a barrel of light sweet crude fell $1.23 to $74.95.
The Commerce Department reported that sales of new homes fell 6.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 834,000 units, more than triple what had been expected and the largest percentage drop since sales fell by 12.7 percent in January.
This boosted anxiety after quarterly results from home builders including Pulte Homes Inc. and D.R. Horton Inc. were squeezed by a sluggish environment from home sales and continued defaults in subprime loans.
D.R. Horton fell 32 cents to $17.16, and Pulte fell 63 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $20.04.
The Nasdaq's losses weren't as steep as other major indexes during the session due to strength from Apple Inc., which surged $8.74, or 6.4 percent, to $146.00.