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Dow falls to 6-year low as banks slide

THE Dow industrials closed at a more than six-year low yesterday as investor fears that banks could be nationalized drove their stocks to a 17-year low and a rise in the number people receiving jobless benefits to a record high stoked worries about the deepening recession.

After several near misses this week, blue chips blew through the Nov. 20 bear market closing low in late trade, erasing a year-end rally built on hopes a new president would successfully tackle the deepening recession.

The Nasdaq fared the worst of the three major indexes after a disappointing outlook from Hewlett-Packard Co sent its stock down almost 8 percent and dragged down other technology shares, Hewlett-Packard, the world's largest PC maker, which warned its expects weak market conditions to persist, was also the Dow's biggest negative weight.

Shares of major banks tumbled on concerns about government plans to mop up bad assets from their books. The KBW banks index fell to its lowest level since 1992, led by a 14 percent slide in Bank of America shares.

"There seems to be a whiff in the air that we're moving much closer to (bank) nationalization, which would effectively wipe out stockholders," said Paul Nolte, director of investments at Hinsdale Associates, in Hinsdale Illinois.

Economic bellwether General Electric, whose operations include a big financial unit, tumbled more than 4 percent and briefly traded below $10 for the first time since 1995, adjusted for stock splits.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 89.68 points, or 1.19 percent, to close at 7,465.95, after setting an intraday bear market low of 7,447.55. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gave up 9.48 points, or 1.20 percent, to 778.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 25.15 points, or 1.71 percent, at 1,442.82

Since the start of the year, the Dow has fallen nearly 15 percent.

The S&P, which suffered a fourth straight day of losses on Thursday that marked its longest losing streak since October, has lost close to 14 percent for the year. The broad S&P is now up almost 4 percent from its November lows after entering the year up about 20 percent from those levels.

Analysts noted that despite the new lows, the market had not seen the rapid sell-offs that were characteristic of October and November and volume was light, indicating a lack of conviction

"There's not that panic that there was in November," said Nolte.

Investors fretted about the deteriorating economy after reports showing a record high in the number of workers continuing to claim jobless benefits in the first week of February and a sharp contraction in factory activity in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Among the losers in financials, the sector that has been at the heart of the credit crunch and global economic down turn, Bank of America was down 14 percent at $3.93, while Citigroup lost 13.8 percent to US$2.51.

In the technology sector, an index of semiconductor stocks shed 5.2 percent.

Sprint Nextel Corp was a bright spot, rising almost 20 percent to US$3.25, after it reported a quarterly loss and a loss in subscribers that was not as deep as some had feared.

Trading was moderate on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 1.49 billion shares changing hands, in line with last year's estimated daily average of 1.49 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 2.04 billion shares traded, below last year's daily average of 2.28 billion.

Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,215 to 856 while decliners beat advancers on the Nasdaq by about 1,788 to 829. (Editing by Leslie Adler)


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