Wall Street takes a dive on first day after downgrade
U.S. markets fall sharply, Dow closes down 634 points
Jin Lee, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Stocks plunged Monday as anxiety overtook investors on the first trading day since Standard & Poor's downgraded American debt.
The Dow Jones industrials fell 634.76 points. It was the sixth worst point decline for the Dow in the last 112 years and the worst one-day drop since December 2008. Every stock in the Standard & Poor's 500 index declined Monday.
Investors worried about the slowing U.S. economy, escalating debt problems threatening Europe and the prospect that fear in the markets would reinforce itself, as it did during the financial crisis in the fall of 2008.
"'What's rocking the market is a growth scare," said Kathleen Gaffney, co-manager of the $20 billion Loomis Sayles bond fund. "The market is under a lot of stress that really has little to do with the downgrade." Instead, Gaffney said, investors are focused on "how Europe and the U.S. are going to work their way out of a high debt burden" if economic growth remains slow.
Investors desperately looked for safe places to put their money and settled on U.S. government debt — even though it was the target of the downgrade Friday, when S&P removed the United States from its list of the lowest-risk countries.
The price of Treasurys rose sharply, and yields, which move in the opposite direction from price, fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.34 percent from 2.57 percent Friday. That matches its low for the year, reached last week.
"This is largely a flight to safety," said Thomas Simons, money market economist with Jefferies & Co. "The bond market is really trading off of what's going on in the stock market." Money flowed out of stocks and into Treasurys.
Gold set a record. It rose $61.40 to settle at $1,713.20.
Crude oil, natural gas and other commodities fell sharply on worries that a weaker global economy will mean less demand. Oil fell 6.4 percent to settle at $81.31 per barrel.
Fear is spreading quickly through the market, said Dimitre Genov, senior portfolio manager with Artio Global Investors. "It's becoming a vicious cycle and could feed into consumers reducing their demand as well."
The Dow was down 5.5 percent a 10,809.85. The sharp drop extended Wall Street's almost uninterrupted decline since late July, when the Dow was flirting with 13,000. It fell below 11,000 for the first time since November.
The S&P 500 fell 79.92, or 6.7 percent, to 1,119.49. The Nasdaq composite index fell 174.72, or 6.9 percent, to 2,357.69.
Stock markets in Asia began Monday's global rout. The main stock index fell almost 4 percent in South Korea and more than 2 percent in Japan. European markets opened later and fell, too, with Germany down 5 percent and France 4.7 percent.
In the U.S., stocks fell even as Moody's, another major credit rating agency, stood by its top rating of Aaa for the United States. It said it could downgrade the U.S. if it doesn't cut its deficit, "but it is early to conclude that such measures will not be forthcoming."
Financial markets also did not appear comforted by an afternoon statement by President Barack Obama, who said Washington needs more "common sense and compromise" to tame its debt.
"Markets will rise and fall," he said. "But this is the United States of America. No matter what some agency may say, we've always been and always will be a triple-A country."
S&P, in its downgrade, criticized dysfunction in the American political system. The downgrade wasn't a total surprise but came when investors were already feeling nervous about the U.S. economy and European debt, among other problems.
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