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3:09 AM Wed, July 18th

Stocks plunge on growing world, economic uncertainty

NEW YORK (AP) — Investors struggling to cope with political and economic uncertainty fled the stock market today, sending the Dow Jones industrials tumbling for the fourth time this week.

The Dow skidded more than 300 points after already losing more than 1,220 points over the previous four sessions. And 10 stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange.

Although today's losses were partly exaggerated by technical factors including the quarterly expiration of options, index options and future contracts, the selling was clearly emotional.

"Investors are scrambling to defend their nest eggs," said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at First Albany Corp.

The Dow was off 303.14, or 3.6 percent, at 8,073.07 in the first hour of trading.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 72.83 or 5 percent to 1,398.10 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index was off 38.08 or 3.9 percent at 946.46.

Stocks also fell sharply overseas amid uneasiness about U.S. plans to avenge last week's terrorist attcks. In London, the FT-SE index was off more than 7 percent and in Frankfurt, the DAX index fell nearly 6 percent.

The fact that the Dow industrials — America's most stalwart companies — have fallen so sharply proves how afraid investors are. Investors see no choice but to sell amid uncertainty over how the Bush administration will avenge last week's terrorist attacks and how much and for how long the economy will suffer as a result.

"We just don't know the answers," said Ricky Harrington, a technical analyst for Wachovia Securities.

Until the market gets some answers about what the future holds for the economy and the overall country, analysts expect investors to continue to sell stocks across market sectors. The economic reprucussions from the attacks have already surfaced as companies have announced thousands of layoffs and plans to reduce operations.

Among today's losers were Northwest Airlines, falling $1.28 to $9.73 after joining other major airlines in announcing thousands of layoffs. Boeing, which is slashing 30,000 jobs, was down $1.36 at $28.40.

Data-storage company EMC, which said it is cutting about 2,400 jobs and will likely post a third-quarter loss, tumbled $1.67 to $10.95.

Newspaper publisher Knight Ridder, which on Thursday warned of weaker results as advertising has fallen off since the attacks, slipped 98 cents to $53.22.

On Thursday, the Dow fell 382 points, bringing its loss so far this week to 1,229 points — nearly 13 percent — and putting the blue chip index in line for its biggest one-week point drop.