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Nasdaq Plunges To 6-Year Low

The Nasdaq composite index slid to a six-year low Monday and the rest of Wall Street fell equally hard amid a worsening outlook for the U.S. economy. The Dow Jones industrials dropped more than 100 points.

Responding to a smattering of bad news — and lacking any positive economic data — investors essentially sold across the board, punishing shares of everything from Microsoft to Wal-Mart. The selloff carried the Nasdaq to its lowest close since September 1996, and the Dow back toward the four-year low it reached July 23.

"The air is thick with concern about the pace of corporate profit growth or the lack thereof, and I think the reports that we're seeing about a possible retest of July's lows are somewhat making that a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Charles G. Crane, strategist for Victory SBSF Capital Management.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow fell 113.87, or 1.4 percent, to 7,872.15, after declining 3.9 percent last week. The losses gave the index its third triple-digit decline in five sessions — and put it just 169 points above its July 23 low, 7,702.34.

The broader market also retreated. The Nasdaq fell 36.15, or 3.0 percent, to 1,184.94, its lowest close since it reached 1,165.81 on Sept. 12, 1996.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index declined 11.69, or 1.4 percent, to 833.70, following a weekly drop of 5 percent.

All three indexes have been on a losing streak for a month. Since Aug. 22, the Dow has lost nearly 1,200 points as investors have increasingly lost confidence due to mixed economic news, earnings warnings, and concerns about a war with Iraq.

Analysts say the strength of the economic recovery has been investors' main concern, particularly with the release of earnings warnings this month. Monday's news gave investors little reason to believe that a turnaround would happen anytime soon.

The New York-based Conference Board reported its Index of Leading Economic Indicators fell 0.2 percent last month, the third straight month of declines — and a bigger-than-expected drop than analysts had forecast.

JDS Uniphase fell 21 cents, or 9.8 percent, to $1.93 after the optical technology company lowered its first-quarter outlook. The selling spread across the tech sector. Microsoft tumbled $1.96 to $45.50, while Texas Instruments dropped 77 cents to $14.61.

Investors made few bets in other sectors. Wal-Mart declined $1.95 to $52.75 after the retailer said September sales will likely come in at the low end of its estimates of a 4 to 6 percent increase.

Financial stocks were also weak. J.P. Morgan Chase slid 92 cents to $19.26, while American Express tumbled 38 cents to $31.40.

Gainers included Dole Food, which rose $4.51 to $29, after CEO David Murdock made a $1.2 billion offer to buy the remaining 76 percent of shares of the pineapple producer.

Investors were also focused on what the Federal Reserve would do at its meeting Tuesday. Although the market wants to see how the central bank handles interest rates, analysts say there is equal interest in how the Fed assesses the economy.

"You'd be afraid of hearing the Fed say that things aren't getting better. What you're hoping for is that they'll say that, in looking at all indicators, they're really seeing things picking up," said Brian Bruce, director of global investments, PanAgora Asset Management Inc.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers more than 3 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was heavy, but below Friday's levels. Turnover was especially heavy Friday because it was what is called a triple-witching session, when the quarterly expiration of index futures and index and stock options occur.

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