Stocks fell for the fourth time in five days as tech stocks sagged under the fallout from yesterday's underwhelming performance by Yahoo Inc. and disappointing retail sales added to worries about an economic slowdown.
Down almost 2 percent yesterday, Yahoo shares fell another 7 percent today and were the biggest loser among Nasdaq's top 100 stocks.
The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index fell 31 points to 1, 935.32, leaving the index with a five-day loss of 110 or 5.4 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 69 points to 10,171.56, bringing its loss since the end of June to 264 points, a 2.5 percent retreat.
The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index fell more than 9 points to 1,109.11, for a cumulative loss of 32 points or 2.8 percent.
Bad as the stock market retreat may be, it was overshadowed by a hat-trick of corporate crime stories: the long-awaited indictment of Ken Lay, former chairman of Enron; the conviction on conspiracy charges of John Rigas, head of the family that runs the Adelphia cable networks; and denial of a new trial to Martha Stewart, who now will be sentenced next week.
Yahoo serves as a symbol of concerns that tech stocks may be overvalued, but today's June sales from major retail chains represents a broader and potentially more serious threat to the market -- a slowdown in consumer spending.
Big chain stores reported their weakest performance since last summer, with sales up just 2.9 percent at stores that have been open for at least a year -- a measurement used because it factors out the growth achieved by opening new stores.
Most major chains reported modest sales increases that fell short of what analysts had expected, but sales were down at Kohl's and The Gap.
Analysts blamed higher gasoline prices for the weakening retail market, noting that lower-income families in particular seem to be cutting back on other spending to make up what they are paying for fuel. Wal-Mart warned that the trend seems to be continuing and said that as a result, it lowered its forecast for July.
The slowdown in consumer spending appears to parallel the pattern for corporations. Several software companies have said they failed to meet their second quarter sales targets because orders that were expected to come in failed to materialize. They blamed customers who they said had decided to put off the purchase.
Simultaneous slowdowns in both consumer and corporate spending would deliver a double whammy to the economy, which has just recovered to the point where the Federal Reserve can raise interest rates. Cutting rates and cutting taxes has helped the economy during the past the past two years, but neither of those tools is available now.