NEW YORK – Wall Street plunged Tuesday, driving the Dow Jones industrials down 370 points after investors saw an unexpected contraction in the service sector as evidence the economy is sinking into recession. It was the Dow’s biggest percentage drop in almost a year.
The volatility that pummeled stocks in January returned with the news that the service sector shrank last month for the first time since March 2003. The report from the Institute for Supply Management wiped out the nascent optimism about the economy that had sent stocks surging higher last week.
“The report drives a nail into the coffin from investors’ minds that we’re in a recession,” said Todd Salamone, director of trading at Schaeffer’s Investment Research. “That doesn’t mean stock prices in the months ahead will be lower. But when you see headline numbers like this, there tends to be a reactionary sell.”
The ISM said its index of service sector activity, which accounts for about two-thirds of the economy, dropped below 50, a level that indicates contraction. The market had expected another month of growth, and the disappointment contributed to Tuesday’s $500 billion loss in the Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 Composite Index, an index that measures the movement in 5,000 U.S. stocks.
Alongside the Labor Department’s report last week showing the first monthly U.S. jobs decline in more than four years, the data on the service sector – which includes businesses ranging from restaurants to retailers to banks – was particularly worrisome to investors.
The Dow fell 370.03, or 2.93 percent, to 12,265.13, after falling 108 points on Monday. Tuesday’s slide was the blue chip index’s largest one-day percentage drop since it lost 3.3 percent on Feb. 27, 2007, and its largest point drop since it fell 387 points last Aug. 9.
The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 44.18, or 3.20 percent, closing at 1,336.64, while the Nasdaq composite index tumbled 73.28, or 3.08 percent, to 2,309.57.
In Monday’s and Tuesday’s trading, the Dow gave up most of the gains it made last week, when it jumped 536 points, or 4.39 percent, in a burst of optimism about the economy.
It’s not surprising that the volatile market would pull back on any bad economic news – but some analysts claim stocks should be near their bottom given how low investors’ sentiment is right now.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 21.88, or 3.02 percent, to 701.58.
Stocks overseas also retreated. Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.82 percent; Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 0.89 percent; Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 2.63 percent; Germany’s DAX index fell 3.36 percent; and France’s CAC-40 fell 3.96 percent.
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