NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks fell on Monday on concerns of an accelerating global slowdown after Japan’s surprise news it had fallen into recession and Citigroup Inc, the No. 2 U.S. bank, said it would cut 52,000 jobs, far more than had been expected.
The drop, the fifth in the past six sessions, drove Nasdaq to its lowest closing level in five and a half years and put the Dow and S&P 500 barely above their lows for the year.
Markets found little to improve confidence from a weekend meeting of leaders of major industrial economies in Washington, which concluded without concrete plans for combating the ailing world economy.
That disappointment was compounded by data showing Japan, the world’s second-largest economy and a key U.S. trading partner, unexpectedly slid into recession in the third quarter.
Financials led the way lower after Citigroup Inc said it would cut 15 percent of its workforce by early next year. The move was Chief Executive Vikram Pandit’s most dramatic yet to restore profitability and bolster a sagging share price but underscored the scope of the industry’s problems. Citigroup’s shares fell more than 6 percent.
“The prevailing mentality is that it’s the minimum required to begin to steady the ship from an expense stand point,” said Matt Kaulfer, portfolio manager and equity analyst at Clover Capital Management in Rochester, New York.
“The industry is going to have to shrink in order to better stabilize itself before it can even have hopes of growing again.”
Adding to worries over the depth of the global slowdown, a Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank survey showed private-sector economists believe the U.S. economy fell into recession last spring and that the downturn would last for 14 months.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 223.73 points, or 2.63 percent, at 8,273.58. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost 22.54 points, or 2.58 percent, to 850.75. The Nasdaq Composite Index gave up 34.80 points, or 2.29 percent, at 1,482.05.
The S&P 500 finished barely above the key 850-point level, and within reach of the year’s closing low of 848.92 hit in late October, while the Nasdaq fell through the closing low set just last week.
The downward momentum suggests the market could again test lows. Last week, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq tumbled to five-year lows before reversing course to surge higher as bargain-hunters scooped up languishing shares.
“There’s probably a bit better than a 50-50 chance that we’ll actually break those lows,” said Paul Nolte, director of investments at Hinsdale Associates in Hinsdale, Illinois.
“A lot of it is around concern in the marketplace that whatever the U.S. and world governments are doing is not enough to get us out of the malaise,” adding that a sharp sell-off would likely cause bargain-hunters to emerge.
Stocks sold off late in the day after trying to rally throughout the session as investors were tempted to scoop up shares that remain at more than five-year lows.
General Motors Corp was a bright spot, rising 5.7 percent to $3.18, as Congress debated a bailout of the American auto industry.
The U.S. Senate Democratic leadership proposed a $25 billion auto aid bill in which the loans would be used to ensure the “long term” viability of the auto companies.
The S&P financial index shed 6 percent, while shares of Citigroup, a Dow component, fell 6.6 percent to $8.89. Also in the sector, Bank of America was down 8.5 percent at $15.03.
Citigroup also said it plans to cut expenses by as much as 20 percent. The latest job cuts are the most by any U.S. company since the credit crisis BEGAN more than a year ago.
Alcoa’s shares fell 10.8 percent to $9.67 after UBS downgraded the U.S. aluminum company, citing uncertainty in the aluminum market.
IBM Inc was the biggest drag on the Dow, falling 3.6 percent to $77.48, as investors sold technology stocks seen as sensitive to reduced spending in an economic slowdown. On the Nasdaq, Apple Inc was down 2.3 percent at $88.14, while Microsoft lost 3.7 percent to $19.32.
Discount retailer Target Corp fell 4.1 percent to $31.68 after its quarterly profit fell and the company suspended its share buybacks in an effort to conserve cash.
Shares of Lowe’s Cos were up 4.2 percent at $18.99 after the home improvement retailer reported quarterly profit that beat expectations. Although the company cut its full-year forecast, the new earnings view was only modestly reduced.
Trading was low on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 1.31 billion shares changing hands, below last year’s estimated daily average of roughly 1.9 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 1.86 billion shares traded, below last year’s daily average of 2.17 billion.
Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,385 to 767 while decliners beat advancers on the Nasdaq by about 1,918 to 861.
Editing by Leslie Adler