Sat, Mar 31, 2001 EST
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Stocks Close Low After Rough Week
   Associated Press
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NEW YORK — The battered Dow Jones industrial average suffered its worst-ever weekly point drop as blue chip stocks tumbled again Friday on profit concerns at major tech companies and a report of further weakness at the nation's factories.

The Dow was pummeled by growing concerns that the economy and corporate profits might not turn around this year.

According to preliminary figures, the Dow closed down 207.87, or 2.1 percent, at 9,823.41.

The Nasdaq composite index was off 49.72 at 1,890.99, and the Standard & Poor's 500 fell 24.64 to 1,148.92.

The stock market's statistics for the week, which saw a 436-point and a 317-point slide Monday and Wednesday in the Dow — attest to the pessimism that pervades Wall Street:

— The Dow lost 821.21 this week, eclipsing the 805.71 the blue chips lost during the week ended April 14, 2000. However, the Dow's 7.71 percent slide was only its 44th-biggest weekly drop in percentage terms. The blue chips have now fallen 9.2 percent since they peaked at 11,722.98 on Jan. 14, 2000.

— The Nasdaq fell 161.79, or nearly 7.9 percent for the week, leaving the index 59.3 percent below the peak of 5,048.62 it reached March 10, 2000. The Nasdaq is also at its lowest close since Nov. 17, 1998.

— The S&P; 500 fell 82.86 or 6.72 percent for the week. It has lost a quarter of its value from the high of 1,527.46 it reached a year ago.

Tech stocks got another jolt from the latest warning from a bellwether company. Compaq Computer said late Thursday its first-quarter results will fall short of Wall Street's expectations and it will cut 5,000 jobs — about 7 percent of its work force.

Compaq's stock was up 28 cents at $18.78, recovering from an earlier decline. But other major tech companies fell — Applied Materials was off $1.94 at $44.19 and Cisco Systems was off 81 cents at $19.50.

Oracle fell a day after announcing it had met lowered earnings expectations and anticipated poor demand for at least three more quarters. Oracle was off 50 cents at $14.19 in heavy trading.

The selling spread to other blue chips including IBM, off $6.44 at $89.12. Health care stocks were also hit, with Pfizer off $1.31 at $37.24 and Merck off $2.85 at $71.20.

Already anxious about the weak economy, Wall Street was further disheartened by news from the Federal Reserve that industrial production plunged for the fifth month in a row, fresh evidence of the toll the economic slowdown has had on manufacturers. Output at the nation's factories, mines and utilities fell by 0.6 percent last month, more than expected. The manufacturing sector has seen activity plunge and has been shedding workers as it struggles to cope with flagging demand.

News earlier this week of worsening economic problems in Japan helped send stocks sharply lower as Wall Street feared U.S. companies, already suffering from a slowdown in this country, will be further hurt by economic weakness overseas.

Hopes for an aggressive interest rate cut next week tempered some pessimism Friday. Investors are hoping the Fed will make a cut of as much as three-quarters of a percentage point to stimulate the economy. The Fed's policy-making Open Market Committee meets Tuesday.

Friday was what's called a triple witching day, when option contracts and futures contracts expire; on such days, the market typically sees heavy volume and price volatility.

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