News that job growth has stalled sent the stock market skidding for the second day in a row, driving the Dow Jones industrial average to a new low for the year.
The Dow plunged 148 points to 9,815.33 -- a 1.5 percent loss that drove the blue chip index to its lowest point since the day after last Thanksgiving.
Suffering a 1.5 percent loss, the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index fell almost 17 points to 1,063.97, its lowest since last December.
The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index dropped 45 points to 1,776.89, a 2.5 percent loss that pushed that index back to where it was in late August 2003.
As the losses accelerated during the afternoon, traders warned that stock prices will likely go lower.
"I don't think the market is going to fall apart but will probably just continue to stay in a trading range," Jonathan Golub, equity strategist at J.P. Morgan Fleming Asset Management in New York, told Washington Post reporter Ben White. "On the one hand you've had really great earnings but on the other hand you have a lot of fear in the market about the upcoming election, interest rates, terrorism, oil prices and Iraq. . . . This [jobs] number just gives one more shot of worry."
The threat of lower stock prices caused investors to bail out of stocks and seek safety in government bonds.
The bond market reacted dramatically to the flow of cash, driving interest rates on 10-year Treasury bonds down by 0.18 percent and trimming 0.26 percent off rates on two-year bonds, which are more sensitive to short-term economic developments.
Bond traders basically decided they don't care if -- as long expected -- Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan raises rates at next Tuesday's Fed meeting. The Fed controls only overnight rates. Traders in the market that sets longer term rates proclaimed that today's jobs numbers show the economy growing so sluggishly that those rates must fall.
The weakening economic picture even halted the rising price of oil. After crude oil futures jumped to another new high of $44.77 a barrel, they retreated based on speculation that the slowing economy could dampen demand for energy. At the close of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude to be delivered next month was down from the previous day by 51 cents at $43.90.
Stock traders agreed with the gloomy assessment of the economy, dumping stocks en masse. Only one of the 30 Dow stocks was up -- Caterpillar, which is close to settling a labor dispute. Also down were 97 of the top 100 Nasdaq stocks and 437 of the issues in the S&P 500.
The decline compounded Thursday's losses and left the Dow down 324 points for the week, a 3.2 percent retreat. The S&P was off almost 38 points, a 3.4 percent loss. The Nasdaq gave back 110 points, a 5.9 percent loss for the week.