Stocks Sink on Bad Economic News

Stocks tumbled Tuesday as nervous investors mulled new economic data on consumer confidence that pointed to a continued recession.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 147.52 points, or 1.6 percent, to end at 9,121.98 Tuesday. The technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index slumped 32.11 points, or 1.9 percent, to close at 1,667.41, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index dropped 18.51 points, or 1.7 percent, to end at 1,059.79. 

The Conference Board's survey measured consumer confidence at 85.5 in October, well below the 97 reported the previous month and the 96 most analysts had predicted. The index compares results to its base year, 1985, when it stood at 100. The October figure is the lowest since February 1994. 

The extent of the decline caught market watchers by surprise and intensified concerns that consumers would spend less and already suffering businesses would see profits diminish even more.

"Today's number was no pleaser ... I sit here and I stare at my screen and all I see is one lay off announcement after another," said Donna Van Vlack, director of trading at Brandywine Asset Management, which manages $7 billion. "The world is a very unsafe place job-wise and terror-wise and a cautious stance is definitely merited more now than it has been."

Indeed, economists expect the October jobs report due on Friday will show the loss of 289,000 jobs, vs. 199,000 in September, and the unemployment rate will jump to 5.2 percent from 4.9 percent.

Even before these wan figures, stocks began on a weak note amid negative outlooks or earnings from companies like software provider Openwave Systems Inc. or drugstore chain CVS Corp.

Investors were also eyeing Argentina amid fears that Latin America's No. 3 economy could soon default on its $132 billion of public debt. Argentina's president, besieged by delays in economic plans and doubts over his leadership, labored on Monday to seal a huge debt swap but markets sank on fears an effective default on its debt was just around the corner. 

Despite hopes that Halloween would boost U.S. retail sales, traffic at chain stores faltered as consumers spooked by job worries and anthrax scares reined in spending, two industry reports said. 

The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi and UBS Warburg's Weekly Chain Store Sales Snapshot fell 1.6 percent in the week ended Oct. 27 from the previous week when sales rose 0.5 percent. That was the largest drop since March and exceeded the 1.4 percent loss in the week of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

Separately, Instinet's Redbook Retail Sales Average rose at a slower 1.0 percent in the retail month ended Oct. 27 compared with a 1.4 percent month-over-month rise reported in the previous week.

In trading, Openwave Systems dropped 13 percent, or $1.18 to $7.81, after the communications software provider warned of disappointing results and was slashing jobs. 

CVS tumbled 23 percent, or $7.27, to $24.35. 

Dow component Philip Morris Cos. Inc., the world's largest tobacco company, dropped $1.98 to $47.70. Investment house Goldman Sachs removed Philip Morris from its recommended list, saying profit growth is likely to slow at its domestic and international tobacco operations. 

Ford Motor Co., the world's second-largest automaker, shed 16 cents to $16.05. The company ousted President and Chief Executive Jacques Nasser after more than a year of mounting troubles and will replace him with Chairman William Clay Ford Jr.

The market had been rebounding all month from the selloff that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Coming into this week, the major indexes had managed to regain much of their post-attack loss and were trading at levels near or above their Sept. 10 closes. 

The declines Monday and Tuesday have eroded some, but not all, of those advances. The Dow is still 10.8 percent above the post-attack low set Sept. 21, the Nasdaq is up 17.2 percent and the S&P has gained 9.7 percent.

Two other economic reports due out later this week will be closely watched: third-quarter gross domestic product, expected Wednesday, and employment for the month of October, due out Friday.

Declining issues led advancers more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 1.29 billion shares, compared with 1.11 billion on Monday. 

The Russell 2000 index fell 6.58 to 422.83. 

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average dropped 0.9 percent. In Europe, Germany's DAX index lost 2.5 percent, Britain's FT-SE 100 slipped 1.6 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 3.0 percent.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.