New York: US stocks slid on Thursday with the Dow and S&P falling to 12-year lows as General Motors’ warning of possible bankruptcy and concerns about the banking system’s fate reinforced investors’ reluctance to take on risk.
The previous session’s rally proved fleeting as worries about the financial system’s health hit bank stocks again and investors focused on the possibility that troubles in the finance arm of widely held General Electric could lead to a debt rating downgrade for the entire company.
GE’s stock was down 0.5% at $6.66 after falling to its lowest since 1991 a day earlier. Uncertainty about the exposure of US banks to GE remained a significant concern and the S&P financial index fell nearly 10%.
Shares of Citigroup, once the world’s largest bank by market value, fell as low as 97 cents during the session, trading below $1 for the first time. Anxiety rose over whether the bank can be restored to health or whether it will have to be taken over by the government.
“The loss of confidence is pervasive. There isn’t any magic bullet here that’s going to save Citi or Bank of America. The only thing that might save them is if the government comes in and sponsors a bankruptcy,” said John Schloegel, a vice president of Capital Cities Asset Management in Austin, Texas.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 281.40 points, or 4.09%, to 6,594.44. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost 30.32 points, or 4.25%, to 682.55. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 54.15 points, or 4%, to 1,299.59.
General Motors shed 15.5% to $1.86 after its auditors raised “substantial doubt” about the automaker’s viability if it fails to head off losses and stop burning through cash.
Investors worry that GM’s collapse would send shock waves through the recession-hit US economy, given that it is a major employer and buyer of supplies from auto parts makers.
Nasdaq at 6-year low
The Nasdaq closed at its lowest level since March 2003, a month remembered for the beginning of the Iraq war. Both the Dow and S&P 500 are down more than 24% for the year so far, with the broad S&P shedding 56 percent from 2007’s all-time high. US stocks have lost around $11 trillion in value since hitting all-time highs in October 2007.
Indexes more than gave back Wednesday’s rally, which was spurred by news of a Chinese economic stimulus plan. But those hopes were dashed on Thursday morning when Premier Wen Jiabao, speaking to parliament, did not announce any expansion of China’s stimulus package.
Moody’s Investor Service said on Wednesday it may cut its ratings on Wells Fargo and Bank of America, helping drive Wells Fargo down 15.94% at $8.12 and pushing Bank of America down 11.7% at $3.17.
Exxon Mobil was the Dow’s biggest drag, dropping 5.3% to $62.22 as US front-month crude lost $1.77 to settle at $43.61 a barrel, pressured by deteriorating global economic prospects.
On the upside, shares of Wal-Mart added 2.6% to $49.75 after the world’s largest retailer posted solid monthly sales and raised its annual dividend by 15%. Of the 30 Dow industrials, only two - Wal-Mart and Pfizer - finished higher.
Grim economic reports signaling more fallout from the recession added to the negative tone ahead of Friday’s key non-farm payrolls report. Data is expected to show the economy shed 648,000 jobs in February, while the unemployment rate is expected to rise to a 25-year high of 7.9%, according to a Reuters poll of economists.
Indeed, the White House said that it doesn’t expect to see good news out of the jobs report.
A report on Thursday showed new orders received by US factories fell for a sixth straight month in January. The Mortgage Bankers Association said that one in every eight U.S. households with mortgages, a record share, ended 2008 behind on their payments or in foreclosure.
Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by about 12 to 1, while on the Nasdaq, about six stocks fell for every one that rose.