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STOCKS PLUNGE ON RATE FEARS

Stocks tumbled again today, dragging the Dow industrials more than 100 points lower for the second straight day, after some surprisingly strong economic data fueled fears of rising inflation and interest rates.

At 3 p.m. the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 144.65 at 7,794.23, extending Thursday's 119-point slide.

Broader stock measures also were sharply lower, with the Nasdaq market suffering the heaviest damage in the aftermath of some more disappointing profit reports from the technology group.

The Nasdaq composite index was down 53.08 at 1,646.58, threatening to set a new one-day point-loss record. The Nasdaq decline was led by Sun Microsystems, which was down 5 1 3/1 6 at 36 1/2 after posting weaker-than-expected results for the July-September quarter.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by more than a 5-to-1 margin on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume totaled a hefty 508.37 million shares, up from 470.61 million at the same point on Thursday.

Stocks sank today after the Federal Reserve reported a faster-than-expected jump in industrial production in September and the Commerce Department said housing starts jumped a surprising 7.9 percent in September.

Coming so soon after last week's worrisome reading on wholesale prices and an unexpected warning from Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, today's data aggravated worries that the economic pace is not moderate enough to keep inflation tame without a boost in Fed interest rates.

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