Stocks fluctuated in turbulent trading today as Wall Street contended with political and economic uncertainty as well as technical factors that can make the market volatile in the best of times.
The Dow Jones industrials had several big swings -- falling 313 points in the opening minutes of trading, surging to a gain of more than 50 points an hour later and then falling back to a loss of more than 300.
At 1 p.m., the Dow was down 187.86 at 8,188.35. The blue chips already lost 1,229 points in the first four sessions this week and was in line for its worst-ever weekly point drop.
The Nasdaq composite index was down 51.07 at 1,419.86, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 20.37 to 964.17.
The market was clearly uneasy as it waited for the United States' anticipated retaliation for last week's terrorist attacks, Wall Street is extremely nervous about the economy and national security.
"Investors are scrambling to defend their nest eggs," said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at First Albany Corp.
But Friday's volatility was also due to what's known as a triple witching session, the quarterly expiration of index futures and index and stock options.
Many of the expirations occurred at the opening of trading and investors chose to sell rather than roll the contracts forward amid the political and economic uncertainty. But analysts weren't sure the market would maintain its stability, because another round of expirations was to come at the close of trading.
"We weathered the first storm, but there is another storm to whether at the close," said Ronald J. Hill, investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.
Stocks also fell sharply overseas amid uneasiness about U.S. plans to retaliate against last week's terrorist attacks. In London, the FT-SE index was off more than 6 percent and in Frankfurt, the DAX index fell nearly 4 percent.
Analysts said there was a great deal of mutual fund redemptions and margin calls by large institutions -- a demand that investors repay money borrowed to buy stocks earlier.
The fact that the Dow industrials -- America's most stalwart companies -- have fallen so sharply proves how afraid investors are. Investors see no choice but to sell amid uncertainty over how the Bush administration will retaliate against last week's terrorist attacks and how much and for how long the economy will suffer as a result.
"We just don't know the answers," said Ricky Harrington, a technical analyst for Wachovia Securities.
Until the market gets some answers about what the future holds for the economy and the overall country, analysts expect investors to continue to sell stocks across market sectors. The economic repercussions from the attacks have already surfaced as companies have announced thousands of layoffs and plans to reduce operations.
Among today's losers were Northwest Airlines, falling $1.28 to $9.73 after announcing 10,000 layoffs. Boeing, which is slashing 30,000 jobs, was down $1.36 at $28.40.
EMC, the largest maker of data storage systems, fell $1.78 to $10.84 after saying it's unlikely to break even in the third quarter because of slumping sales. Analysts had been forecasting a one-cent profit. The maker of data storage systems also said it will fire 10 percent of its workers.
The company said the forecast doesn't reflect any estimate of the effect of last week's terrorist attacks. Some investors have predicted EMC may benefit as companies place a higher priority on backing up data in the aftermath of the attack.
Newspaper publisher Knight Ridder, which Thursday warned of weaker results as advertising has fallen off since the attacks, slipped 98 cents to $53.22.
Dow Chemical fell $2.98 to $26.60. The company said third-quarter profit will fall short of forecasts because the slumping economy cuts into demand for plastics and chemicals that it makes for use in such things as cars and building materials.
Disney fell 21 cents to $16.77. Chief Executive Michael Eisner said last evening that ad revenue at Disney's television networks and visitors to its theme parks, hotels and retail stores are down because of the attack.
DoubleClick, an online advertising company, fell 78 cents to $6.27 after forecasting a third-quarter loss that will be wider than analysts were expecting.
IBM dropped $2.42 to $90.98, Microsoft lost $2.67 to $48.09, and Merck lost $2.86 to $63.99.
SanDisk Corp. fell $1.28 to $10.71. The maker of computer memory chips said it will have a wider third-quarter loss than expected because of weakening demand and lower prices. SanDisk expects a third quarter loss of 60 cents a share, previously it forecast a loss of 10 cents to 15 cent.
"This is just emotion driven panic selling," said James Gribbell, who helps manage $65 billion at David L. Babson & Co. in Cambridge, Mass. "Foreign investors are pulling out of the U.S., institutional investors are raising cash and retail investors are throwing in the towel," he said.
Among a handful of gainers in the S&P 500 were Barrick Gold, which rose 25 cents to $17.60, Newmont Mining, up 45 cents to $24.35, and Homestake Mining, which gained 7 cents to $9.25. Gold is considered by some to be a safe haven in times of political turmoil.
Analysts could offer little guidance on how long the pain might continue. "This disaster pushed a market and an economy that were already falling, further than expected," said Alan Ackerman, market strategist for Fahnestock & Co. "I don't think anyone knows where the bottom is."
That's partly because no one knows what to expect of President Bush's war on terrorism, which may have helped rally the market Wednesday as the first elements were deployed to the Middle East.
"The fact we had a military deployment seemed like great news (Wednesday), but in the cold, harsh light of reality today, it could be a long time and cost not just time and money, but lives," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Jefferies and Co., an institutional brokerage firm in Los Angeles.
Beyond that uncertainty and beyond even the litany of economic miseries facing the country, there are simple human reasons for Wall Street's funereal week.
Many traders knew people who lost their lives in the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. Still more have had to deal with logistical struggles just to resume their jobs, with traders meeting daily to figure out how to improve telephone lines and other connections between firms. Many firms are operating in backup offices.