Investors pulled back sharply Wednesday on growing global recession fears and skidding oil prices, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down more than 5.5 percent at the market close.
The Dow dropped 514.45 points (5.7 percent) at 8519.21 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite slid 80.93 points (4.77 percent) to 1,615.75.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 58.27, or 6.10 percent, to 896.78, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 80.93, or 4.77 percent, to 1,615.75.
A shift in focus from improving credit markets to worrisome corporate profit forecasts that are raising fears of a deep economic slowdown appeared to have triggered the fall.
While reduced strains in world credit markets have eased some investors' nervousness about the economy, market anxiety remains high as hundreds of companies this week release third-quarter results and in some cases fourth-quarter forecasts that offer a glimpse of the rough conditions that may lay ahead.
Wachovia Corp., which is being bought by Wells Fargo & Co., said it swung to a huge loss in the third quarter while the drugmaker Merck & Co. said its quarterly profit fell 28 percent and that it would cut more than 10 percent of its work force.
Commercial and personal property insurer Travelers Cos. said hurricane-related losses pushed its third-quarter profit down 82 percent and forced it to lower its full-year forecast.