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Stocks fall sharply, Nasdaq at seven-month low
AP Business WriterNEW YORK (AP) -- With no upbeat news to cheer Wall Street on Monday, investors once again sold off stocks, sending the Nasdaq composite index to its lowest close in nearly seven months and the Dow industrials down nearly 200 points.
"There are two things at hand. No. 1, earnings stink. The second is (high) valuation," said Gary Kaltbaum, market technician for Investors' Edge Partners in Orlando. "Put those two together, you end up with a lethal combination and the rough-tough trading we have been seeing."
The Nasdaq composite index fell 34.55, or 2.1 percent, to 1,578.48, according to preliminary calculations. The Nasdaq has been extremely week, falling now for 12 of 14 sessions. The last time the Nasdaq closed lower was Oct. 9 when it stood at 1,570.19.
The market's other major indicators also finished sharply lower. The Dow slid 198.59, or 2.0 percent, at 9,808.04, after gaining 1 percent last week.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 20.76, or 1.9 percent, at 1,052.67, having slipped 0.3 percent last week.
Analysts say the market will continue to struggle for gains until investors are assured that business is improving and that the economy is strengthening. There was no such news Monday to suggest either was the case.
The market was also anxious about a meeting to be held Tuesday by the Federal Reserve Open Markets Committee at which a decision on interest rates would be made. At its last meeting on March 19, the Fed left rates unchanged after making 11 rate cuts last year to stimulate the economy.
Investors are nervous about when the Fed will indicate that it is time to start raising rates again, and if that could happen before the economy has decisively improved.
Investors dealt with their qualms by again unloading stocks, which they've been doing for weeks as companies reported lackluster first-quarter earnings and failed to offer positive forecasts for future results. Economic news has also been mixed.
Technology has been on a steady decline throughout 2002 as the market expects it will be the last to emerge from recession. By the end of Friday's session, the Nasdaq had plunged 21.7 percent from its high close for the year -- 2,059.38 back on Jan. 4.
As for individual issues, EarthLink on Monday fell 87 cents to $7 after President Mike McQuary resigned for personal reasons.
Network equipment maker Cisco Systems declined 25 cents to $12.89 ahead of its fiscal third-quarter results due out Tuesday.
Oracle lost 21 cents to close at $8.22, adding to losses from Friday when Goldman Sachs and SG Cowen reduced their outlooks on the software maker and also on Thursday when Merrill Lynch questioned the firm's growth prospects.
Blue chips posted widespread losses, which illustrates the vastness of investors' skepticism even where the safer havens are concerned. Caterpillar fell $1.60 to $52.40, Exxon Mobil declined $1.34 to $39.25, and Home Depot stumbled $1.80 to $44.70.
But there were some winners, including Dow industrial Hewlett-Packard, up 78 cents at $18.22 on its first day of trading since the closure of its merger with Compaq Computer.
After weeks of heavy selling, the market might be poised for a rally soon. But Wall Street isn't capable of sustaining any upturn, analysts said, until companies offer upbeat outlooks.
"The market is probably just going to trade around here. You might see a little move lower and another move a little higher," said Richard A. Dickson, a technical analyst at Hilliard Lyons in Louisville, Ky.
Dickson added, "You are in for another frustrating trading range. That is why it is important to look at areas of the market that are performing the best," such as small-cap stocks.
Indeed, the Russell 2000 index, the barometer of smaller companies, is up 2.9 percent for the year, while the other major indices, made up of larger companies, are negative for 2002. Through Friday, the Nasdaq has plunged 19.1 percent, the Dow has fallen 2.1 percent and the S&P 500 has dropped 8.3 percent.
On Monday, the Russell finished down 9.41, or 1.8 percent, at 502.91.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers slightly more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange where volume was light.
Overseas, France's CAC-40 each advanced 0.3 percent, while Germany's DAX index was essentially flat, off just 0.04 percent.
Financial markets in Japan and Britain were closed Monday for national holidays and will reopen Tuesday.
On the Net:
New York Stock Exchange: http://www.nyse.com
Nasdaq Stock Market: http://www.nasdaq.com