Continued from page 1

The Dow almost matched its lowest close of the year, 10,719 on Aug. 10. The stock market was seized by volatility last month, and at one point the Dow strung together four consecutive days of 400-point moves up or down.

In a sign of what a rocky year it has been for the stock market, Thursday’s decline isn’t even close to the biggest in 2011. The Dow fell 634 points on Aug. 8, 519 points on Aug. 10 and 512 points on Aug. 4.

It would have to fall 485 more points to reach the traditional definition of a bear market — a 20 percent decline. The Dow was at 12,810 on April 29.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index, a broader measure of the stock market, and the Nasdaq composite, which is more heavily weighted with technology stocks, both fell more than 3 percent for the day.

To get the economy going, President Barack Obama has proposed a $447 billion package of tax cuts, public works projects and benefits for the unemployed, but it faces major opposition in the Republican-controlled House.

While the market was falling Thursday, the president stood in front of an aging bridge that connects Ohio and Kentucky. He exhorted Republicans: “Help us put this country back to work. Pass this jobs bill right away.”

Top Republicans in Congress accused Obama of trying to score political points. If Congress fails to pass the jobs bill, it would leave the Fed action this week as the only major new initiative designed to help the economy.

The Fed announced Wednesday that it would shuffle $400 billion of its own holdings in hopes of reducing interest rates on long-term loans. The plan is known as Operation Twist, a nod to a similar approach taken by the Fed during the time of Chubby Checker in the early 1960s.

The central bank hopes that if people and businesses are able to borrow money more cheaply, they will spend throughout the economy and give it a lift.

Still, the Fed announcement troubled investors because it came with a bleak assessment of the future. The Fed said it sees “significant downside risks to the economic outlook,” including volatility in overseas markets.

“In financial markets, the thinking seems to be: If the Fed is worried, the rest of us ought to be really worried,” said Brian Gendreau, senior investment strategist at Cetera Financial Group.

Economists say the Fed action may help, but probably not much.

“Counting on the Fed to get us out of this is a mistake,” said Uri Landesman, president of Platinum Partners, a hedge fund.

The price of commodities like oil and metals dropped steeply because investors worried that demand for them would fall if the world economy keeps slowing or falls into recession again.

Oil dropped more than $5 a barrel to $80.51, its lowest settling price since Aug. 9. The selling reflected concerns that world demand for oil will fall if the economy slows.

Story Continues →