The U.S. stock market extended its sharp slide Thursday as investors' already bleak view of the world economy worsened with another drop in the euro and disappointing U.S. employment news.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 300 points, or 3 percent, in morning trading. Interest rates fell sharply in the Treasury market as investors once again sought the safety of U.S. government debt.
With Thursday's drop, the S&P 500 is down more than 10 percent from its 2010 trading high last month. Such a drop is considered by many analysts to be a "correction" in the market. Many analysts pay more attention to drops from closing highs, however, not trading highs.
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The euro is falling again and continues to hover near a four-year low. It has become a key indicator for confidence in Europe's economy. The euro fell to $1.2329, a day after hitting $1.2146.
"There's a question out there now that potentially we could be talking about a collapse of the euro zone or countries breaking away from the euro," said Tim Quinlan, an economist at Wells Fargo & Co. As recently as four months ago, that wasn't even considered a possibility, Quinlan said.
Such a stark change in views has unnerved investors, and the euro is now largely driving stock trading. Major European indexes gave up their morning gains and are now sharply lower after the euro retreated.
Economic news also hit investor sentiment. The Labor Department said new claims for unemployment benefits rose by 25,000 to 471,000, their largest amount in three months. That came as an unpleasant surprise to investors who were expecting a slight drop to 440,000. High unemployment remains one of the biggest obstacles to a sustained recovery in the U.S. The latest report snapped a streak of four straight weekly declines and again calls into question the strength of the job market.
Weekly claims have been stuck around 450,000 since January, unable to break closer to the 425,000 range that is considered a sign that employers are regularly hiring new workers.
The employment report increased investors' worries about the global economy. They have been selling heavily the past few weeks amid growing concerns that Europe's debt problems will halt the recovery in the region and hurt the rebound in the U.S.
In midmorning trading, the Dow fell 256.12, or 2.5 percent, to 10,188.25. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 30.34, or 2.7 percent, to 1,084.71. The Nasdaq composite index fell 65.57, or 2.9 percent, to 2,232.80.
As investors pulled out of stocks and other risky investments like commodities, they moved into safer investments such as U.S. Treasuries.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 3.24 percent from 3.37 percent late Wednesday.
The demand for safety rose after Greek workers again took to the streets protesting recently approved budget cuts that were necessary for the country to receive a bailout. Greece was able to repay debt that came due Wednesday only because it had access to a rescue package from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
The Dow has fallen for nine of the past 12 days. The Dow dropped 115 points on Tuesday and 67 points on Wednesday.
Crude oil fell $1.12 to $68.75 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
At the New York Stock Exchange, only 115 stocks rose compared to 2,787 that fell. Volume came to 253 million shares, compared with 231 million traded at the same point Wednesday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 16.85, or 2.5 percent, to 657.55.
In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.9, Germany's DAX index dropped 2.4 percent, and France's CAC-40 plummeted 3 percent.
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