Ouch! Shareholders Lost $2.4 Trillion in 2002

A stock rout this year has erased $2.4 trillion in market value, representing almost one-quarter of the U.S. gross domestic product, as waves of accounting problems, executive skulduggery and profit warnings have pounded Wall Street's confidence.

The Wilshire Total Market Index , the broadest index for the U.S. equity market, closed at its lowest point in almost 4 years Wednesday and has tumbled more than 18 percent so far this year.

The decline is worth more than Germany's gross national product, a measure of the dollar value of all goods and services produced in that country plus income from abroad. U.S GDP, which measures the value of goods and services produced within the United States, is about $10 trillion.

But for all the doom and gloom, some see recent sharp declines as good news.

"It's going back to a more normal level. During the speculative bubble, it (the Wilshire index) was (valued at) almost 2 times GDP," said Edgar Peters, chief investment officer for Panagora Asset Management, which manages $13 billion. "But it's pretty much run its course, despite all the pessimism. When that dissipates in the next few months, it will be a good buying opportunity for those who have the fortitude."

The Wilshire index measures the stock performance of all U.S.-based companies. It had traded down 9.45 points, or 0.11 percent, at 8,706.93 at mid-morning on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the index closed at 8,716.38, giving it a value of $10.4 trillion. That was the lowest close for the market measure since Oct. 8, 1998, when the Wilshire 5000 ended the day at 8,620.80. It also is a new low since the market peaked on March 24, 2000.

Since the Wilshire's all-time high, the market gauge has tumbled about 41 percent, reflecting a loss of nearly $7 trillion in market value.