NEW YORK (AP) — Stock prices plunged again Wednesday, with the Dow Jones industrial average tumbling more than 550 points at one stage, as investors fretted over oil prices that dropped below $27 a barrel and the potential for weaker global economic growth.
The slide followed another sharp drop in stock markets around the world and extended a severe January pullback.
By afternoon trading, U.S. stocks had recovered some of their losses, but the Dow Jones industrials were still down 364 points, or 2.3 percent, at 15,652. The blue-chip average has lost 10.2 percent so far this month.
The last time the Dow Jones industrials closed with a loss of 550 or more points was Aug. 24, when they dived 588 points, or 3.6 percent.
The broader Standard & Poors 500 index was down nearly 37 points Wednesday, or 2 percent, to 1,844, and the Nasdaq composite index tumbled 50 points, or 1.1 percent, to 4,427.
As investors sold stocks, they fled to perceived safer investments such as U.S. Treasury securities, sending yields lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note sank to 1.9573 percent.
Energy stocks were hammered as crude oil prices, already at 12-year lows, continued to fall. The price of the benchmark U.S. light crude oil for near-term delivery plummeted $2, or 7 percent, to $26.45 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Chevron Corp. was down 5.9 percent, and Exxon Mobil Corp. fell 5.6 percent. But the rout extended across every industry. Boeing Co. sank 3.5 percent, and Cisco Systems Inc. was off 4.8 percent.
Many traders view the slump in oil prices partly as a reflection of lower demand caused by weakening economic expansion worldwide, especially in China.
Economists say the fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain solid, particularly compared with many other nations, and that the markets startling losses might be an overreaction.
The sell-off is simply happening too fast, which signals panic selling, more than reasoned investment decisions based on fundamentals like the economy and corporate earnings, are driving these losses, said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at Union Bank in New York. It cant last.
Still, continued volatility in the stock market risks damaging the confidence of consumers and businesses and pushing the U.S. more quickly toward an economic downturn.
Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Co., said market turmoil doesnt always hurt the economy.
When the market is this bad, its reasonable to say it might be telling you something, but its also reasonable to say maybe its not, Dimon told CNBC-TV while attending the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
He noted that economist Paul Samuelson once quipped that markets have forecasted nine of the last five recessions.
Im hopeful that this is just all a big adjustment, Dimon said. A fast adjustment might be better than a painful, slow death.
There already have been spillover effects in the U.S. economy from sharply lower oil prices, which are holding down inflation. The consumer price index fell 0.1 percent in December, largely because of a 3.9 percent decline in gasoline prices, the Labor Department said Wednesday.
Tumbling oil prices often are a sign of rapidly weakening demand. But although worldwide demand slowed somewhat toward the end of last year, oil prices are plummeting largely because of a supply glut, the International Energy Agency said.
The oversupply soon will get worse as Iran is able to start shipping its oil into the world market after the United States and other nations lifted sanctions related to its nuclear weapons program.
In the first half of this year, global oil supply could exceed demand by 1.5 million barrels a day, pushing prices lower as the world market potentially could drown in oversupply, the IEA said.
Although recent sharp declines in Chinese stock prices often have triggered sell-offs on global stock markets, on Wednesday the benchmark Shanghai composite index dropped a relatively modest 1 percent.