The Dow Jones industrial average skidded Friday to a new low for the year when crude oil prices reached another all-time high.
After banging in to the $55 a barrel barrier repeatedly this week, crude oil broke through, closing above that point for the first time. At $55.17, crude climbed 70 cents during the day's trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Stock traders have been keeping one eye on the price of oil and the other on the presidential tracking polls, which day after day show the race between President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry, too close to call.
Uncertainty is anathema to stock traders who are becoming increasingly reluctant to make commitments when they don't know how the price of oil will affect business or who will be running the country next year.
Wall Street is coming to the conclusion that the market must wait at least until after the election before if finds firm footing. Ironically investors' unwillingness to buy stocks in the face of uncertainty further fuels that uncertainty, making the markets ever more volatile.
In today's trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 108 points to 9,757.81, it's lowest level since last Thanksgiving.
The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index fell 11 to 1,095.74 and the Nasdaq Stock Market composite index lost 39 points, closing at 1,915.14. Both those indexes are still above their lows for the year.
For the year, the Dow is down 6.7 percent, the Nasdaq Composite is off 4.4 percent and the S&P 500 has fallen 1.5 percent.
The Dow is doing much worse than the other measures of the market not only because big blue chip companies are affected more by overall economic trends, but also because of specific problems at some of the key companies in the index.
Today the Dow's biggest loser was American International Group, the giant insurance company that is the target of a major investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer. AIG stock fell almost $2 today and is off almost 20 percent since the investigation was revealed two weeks ago.
Also dragging down the Dow today was Microsoft, which says its sales are running behind estimates because some customers are delaying purchases.