NEW YORK -- Investors' nagging uncertainty about the economy prompted them to collect more profits Wednesday, sending stocks down sharply and the Dow Jones industrials tumbling by triple digits for the second straight day.
Analysts said some selling was expected as investors aren't completely convinced the economy will improve in the first half of 2002 as they'd like. For weeks, hopes that business will improve early next year have been boosting the market.
''We're making a bottom, but we're not out of the woods yet,'' said Richard Jandrain, senior managing director at Banc One Investment Advisors Corp.
The Dow closed down 160.74, or 1.6 percent, at 9,711.86, adding to its 110-point loss from Tuesday, according to preliminary calculations.
The broader market also suffered. The Nasdaq composite index fell 48.00, or 2.5 percent, to 1,887.97 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index declined 20.98, or 1.8 percent, to 1,128.52.
Analysts had expected investors to lock in profits, given how strongly the market has rallied since late September. As of Monday, the Dow had risen 21 percent since closing at a low of 8,235.81 on Sept. 21 following the terror attacks. After two consecutive triple-digit losses, the blue chips are still about 18 percent above that low.
''After this run we have had, it is normal to have some profit taking regardless if it is a consumer confidence number or whatever the catalyst. The reality is we were due for some pullback,'' said Barry Hyman, chief investment strategist at Ehrenkrantz King Nussbaum. He referred to an unexpected drop in consumer confidence reported Tuesday by the Conference Board.
Hyman and other analysts were actually pleased to see investors take a cautious step back after fearing that the market was rising too much and too quickly.
The market's softness was spread across most sectors, but one of the weakest spots was utilities, which dropped after Dynegy backed out of its planned merger with Enron. Debt-ridden Enron plunged 73 percent, down $3 at $1.11, while Dynegy fell $4.08 to $36.81.
Enron broke the record for heaviest issue ever traded on the New York Stock Exchange with more than 339 million shares changing hands. The previous record was the 304 million shares of Intel traded on Sept. 22, 2000 when the chip maker issued a third-quarter revenue warning.
The Dow Jones utilities average fell 2.9 percent, down 8.48 at 279.95.
Additionally, Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service cut Enron's long-term corporate credit rating, causing the company's lenders to drop sharply, as well. Dow industrials J.P. Morgan Chase sank $2.30 to $37.50, and Citigroup dropped $2.75 to $47.80.
Retailing issues were vulnerable to concerns that this holiday shopping season will be the worst in a decade. Gap stumbled 79 cents to $13.61 after Prudential Securities reduced its rating on the clothier to ''sell'' from ''hold'' and called its holiday merchandise poor. Electronics retailer Best Buy fell $1.18 cents to $69.90, while Bed, Bath & Beyond declined 74 cents to $32.34.
Technology was also weaker as investors fear there is still too much inventory and not enough demand. Chip equipment maker Altera, which was scheduled later to give an update on fourth-quater business conditions, fell $1.83 to $21.83.
IBM stumbled $2.05 to $112.15, while Intel fell 55 cents to $31.76.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 1.39 billion shares, ahead of the 1.30 billion traded Tuesday.
The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, fell 7.01, or 1.5 percent, to 453.70.
Overseas, markets were lower Wednesday with Japan's Nikkei stock average finishing down nearly 3 percent. Meanwhile, Standard & Poor's issued a double warning on Japan's economy, downgrading the country's credit rating and placing its biggest banks on credit watch. The U.S. ratings agency cited doubts about Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ability to implement structural reforms.
In Europe, France's CAC-40 fell 0.9 percent, Britain's FT-SE 100 declined 1.2 percent, and Germany's DAX index lost 2.8 percent.
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