- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2008

NEW YORK | A period of relative calm on Wall Street ended Thursday as stocks tumbled in the final hour of trading on growing investor anxiety about the government’s November employment report.

The major indexes each fell more than 2.5 percent, including the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which dropped 216 points after rising in seven of the past eight sessions.

It was clear that investors were worrying that Friday’s employment report would show a further deterioration in the job market; employers already have cut 1.2 million jobs this year through October, leaving the unemployment rate at a 14-year high of 6.5 percent. Economists expect the Labor Department will report that the jobless rate rose to 6.8 percent in November and that companies cut another 320,000 jobs.

“It’s all about jobs and right now the outlook is pretty downbeat,” said Alan Skrainka, chief market strategist with Edward Jones in St. Louis.

The late-session decline followed a decent run for stocks, which closed higher in seven of the previous eight sessions. It also came as the heads of the Detroit automakers appeared before Congress with hopes of persuading skeptical lawmakers to save their troubled industry. While the market expects Detroit will be able to win some aid from Capitol Hill, support for the troubled companies wasn’t assured.

Anthony Conroy, managing director and head trader for BNY ConvergEx Group, said investors are likely taking money off the table ahead of the employment report and that there was disappointment over the appearance of the heads of the U.S. automakers on Capitol Hill.

“There was no clarity coming out of the autos. People were expecting some clarity,” he said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 215.45, or 2.51 percent, to 8,376.24.

Broader stock indicators also declined. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 25.52, or 2.93 percent, to 845.22, and the Nasdaq Composite Index fell 46.82, or 3.14 percent, to 1,445.56.

The Russell 2000 Index of smaller companies fell 14.23, or 3.14 percent, to 439.53.

The number of stocks declining on the New York Stock Exchange outpaced those advancing by nearly 3-to-1. Volume came to 1.47 billion shares compared with 1.3 billion shares traded Wednesday.

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