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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rising fears of another recession hammered U.S. stocks on Thursday, sending major averages sharply lower in a return to the extreme fluctuations investors endured a week ago.
New worries about the health of European banks set the tone before the market's open, and a dismal report on regional U.S. manufacturing fueled a downward spiral in which the Dow dropped as much as 528 points, spurring a flight to safe-haven assets like gold.
The Nasdaq ended more than 5 percent lower, the S&P 500 more than 4 percent and the blue-chip Dow off more than 3 percent. Thursday marks the sixth time in the last two weeks that the S&P has moved by 4 percent or more.
"Are we going to go into recession? Most market participants were looking for slow and steady growth, but the statistics and the financial situation here and in foreign economies have disturbed that view," said Richard Weiss, a Mountain View, California-based senior money manager at American Century Investments.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 419.63 points, or 3.68 percent, to 10,990.58, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index declined 53.24 points, or 4.46 percent, to 1,140.65, and the Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 131.05 points, or 5.22 percent, to 2,380.43.
The losses resumed a slide in stocks that began in late July and seemed to moderate in the last few days. In a more worrisome sign, volume was heavier than on recent positive days, with 11.4 billion shares changing hands, highest so far this week.
"It almost feels as though the floor in its entirety is clearly engaged in executions but the overall theme is resignation," said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Capital in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Kenny said that traders are increasingly resigned to the idea that the market trend is downward.
"What can you do about a trend that seems to be well established? It's the new -- I hate to say it -- it is the new normal," he said.
Volatility jumped, with the CBOE Volatility Index or VIX, a barometer of Wall Street anxiety, up 38 percent at 43.56. More investors were taking out protective positions against declines in the market.
The S&P 500 is now off 16.4 percent from its April 29 closing high, but the benchmark index still ended above its slump on August 9, when it fell to 1,101.54.
Adding to fears of a another recession, a survey of U.S. Mid-Atlantic factory activity by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank showed a drop in August to its lowest level since March 2009.
Even though European bank worries were at the forefront of investors' minds, financials were not the worst-off stocks on Thursday.
The losses were spread throughout the market, with the biggest hits taken by growth-oriented sectors that speaks more to rising global economic concerns. Luxury retailers and large-cap technology companies, often a hiding spot during market declines, slumped. Shares of luxury retailer Tiffany & Co fell 7.9 percent to $59.21, while software developer Oracle Corp dropped 8.3 percent to $25.19.
Top drags on the Dow included shares of IBM, down 4.5 percent at $163.83, and United Technologies, down 5.5 percent at $68.12. On the Nasdaq, shares of Oracle fell 8.3 percent to $25.19.
Hewlett-Packard Co slumped 6.1 percent after reporting quarterly results.
Bank shares also fueled the market's declines, with the KBW Banks Index down 5.6 percent.
A Wall Street Journal report said regulators are scrutinizing the financial health of U.S. units of Europe's biggest banks more closely.
Among Wall Street bank stocks, Citigroup Inc lost 6.3 percent to $27.98 and Morgan Stanley shed 4.8 percent to $16.20.
Economists at Morgan Stanley lowered the outlook for global growth and said the United States and the euro zone are "dangerously close to recession."
Reporting by Ashley Lau; Additional reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch and Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Kenneth Barry