Stocks plunged today as optimism about corporate earnings gave way to jitters about rising interest rates and their impact on profit growth.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 243.54 points to close at 11,008.17, its biggest loss since Jan. 4, when it fell 359 points. The sell-off was broad-based, with 27 of 30 Dow component stocks finishing lower. General Electric, down 6 at 138 1/8, and Johnson & Johnson, down 6-3/16 at 83-11/16, led the decline.
Broader stock indicators also fell in a volatile session. The Nasdaq plummeted 139.32 points to close at 4096.08, its worst point drop since it fell 150 points on Jan. 5, and its fourth-biggest point decline ever. The Nasdaq had risen 67 points in early trading.
The Standard & Poor's 500-stock average fell 39.45, to 1401.91, and the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell for the first time since Jan. 12, dropping 10.99, to 522.95.
After a strong opening, stocks began to slide at midday as investors looked ahead to the next meeting of the Federal Reserve on Feb. 1-2. Many people on Wall Street now fear that an interest rate increase at that meeting will be the first of several this year as the central bank works to stave off inflation.
In 1999, the Fed raised interest rates three times, hoping to keep inflation under control. While most economists see little evidence of inflation now, continued signs of economic strength have convinced some that inflation could escalate at any time.
Today, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Jack Guynn acknowledged that last year's rate increases had little effect on economic growth.
"There is no broad-scale evidence to show that those three increases have done anything to dampen consumer demand," he said, although he noted that it takes several months to see the full impact of rate increases.
Guynn's comments unnerved investors a day before Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's planned testimony before a Senate committee about the federal budget.
Strong corporate earnings prompted some investors to buy. Eastman Kodak rose 1-5/16, to 62-1/16, after reporting it earned $1.27 per share in the fourth quarter, beating analysts' estimates of $1.24. Kodak, which has faltered in recent years due to tougher competition from Fuji, also issued a strong outlook for 2000.