Stocks Tumble as Investors Cash In, Anticipate Earnings Reports

Stocks fell sharply Monday as investors cashed in on last week's gains and anticipated poor earnings reports and upcoming economic data that could indicate a looming recession.

The Dow Jones industrial average slid 275.67 points to end at 9269.50. It was the Dow's largest drop since the precipitous 684-point decline on Sept. 17, when trading resumed following the terrorist attacks.

The technology-laced Nasdaq market dropped 69.44 points to close at 1699.52. The broad Standard & Poor's 500 Index slipped 26.31 points to end at 1078.30. 

Analysts said they weren't alarmed by the decline, however, noting that stock prices have been moving higher for several weeks. They also said Wall Street might be playing it safe before consumer confidence and gross domestic product figures are released later this week.

"Considering the type of strong move we've had in stock prices since Oct. 1, this is really no surprise," said Brian Belski, fundamental market strategist at US Bancorp Piper Jaffray. "A part of this is locking in some gains, the end of month is also approaching and the end of fiscal year for many mutual funds is approaching."

With more third-quarter reports expected this week and the middle of the fourth quarter approaching, analysts predicted there would be significant pressure on investors to sell. They say investors are inclined to cash in any profits because they are unwilling to leave too much in the market amid fears of more terrorism and fallout from the U.S. air strikes against Afghanistan.

"We've been trying to take profits since last week and even today," said Chris Wolfe, equity market strategist for J.P. Morgan Private Bank. "We feel that the next three weeks are going to have little if any upside surprise in terms of earnings or corporate outlooks. In fact, we expect that as companies give their midquarter updates, there will be more downward revisions."

In addition, economic data on jobs, consumer confidence, manufacturing and third-quarter growth due this week could point to a looming recession

"All the economic data is expected to be gloomy," said Uma Rajeshwar, first vice president at Glenmede Trust Co. which oversees $17 billion. "Last week people were focusing on the fact that earnings are coming in better than expected, even though expectations have been reduced considerably, they were focused on the fact that the Federal Reserve has reduced rates and put so much liquidity in the market."

Dow component Boeing slid $3.93, or 10.4 percent, to $33.75 in reaction to news late Friday that it had lost the largest Defense Department contract in history. Lockheed-Martin, which won the contract, lost 92 cents to $49. 

Another Dow component, General Motors, fell $2.64 to $42.76 on word it was selling its Hughes Electronics unit and DirecTV subsidiary to EchoStar Communications for $25.8 billion. Hughes fell 99 cents to $14.36, while EchoStar dropped $1.18 at $24.08. 

Tech stocks also were vulnerable, including Dow stock Intel, which fell $1.68 to $24.18, for a loss of 6.5 percent.

The most active stock on the New York Stock Exchange was Enron Corp, off $1.69 at $13.81. The energy giant is in talks with banks for more credit to shore up investor confidence after it tapped $3 billion in credit last week.

The selling contrasted noticeably with last week when investors despite mostly lackluster earnings reports and a series of new warnings that business isn't likely to improve soon. Although a number of companies did release earnings in line with analysts' expectations, many of those estimates had been previously reduced on worries that business would be poor.

Wall Street is also concerned that nervous consumers will spend less. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the economy, and many analysts believe healthy consumer sentiment is key to a business turnaround. The market was waiting to see the results of the Conference Board's monthly survey on consumer confidence, due to be released Tuesday. 

Also casting a pall on Wall Street were fears of debt default by Argentina, one of Latin America's biggest economies. Argentine and Brazilian stocks sank as a delay in a long-awaited Argentine economic package heightened fears that that economy was going to collapse. 

"Argentina could be financial contagion and it will have an impact on the market," said Rajeshwar. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the U.S. administration have been doing a lot to keep "this system afloat, they keep rescheduling the debt payments but then the market is going to be upset because the administration is upset about a whole bunch of different things and now Argentina comes up," he added.

Declining issues led advancers more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to nearly 1.1 billion shares, down from Friday's 1.21 billion.

The Russell 2000 index fell 9.24 to 429.41. 

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 1.7 percent. In Europe, Germany's DAX index lost 3.3 percent, Britain's FT-SE 100 dropped nearly 2.0 percent, and France's CAC-40 slipped 2.1 percent.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.