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Stocks dive on report that Saudis fired on protesters [Updated]

March 10, 2011 | 11:00 am

On what was already a grim day in the stock market, share prices took a fresh dive in the last 40 minutes on a report that Saudi Arabian police fired on protesters at a rally in the country’s eastern region.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 212 points, or 1.7%, to 12,001 at about 11 a.m. PST amid a broad market decline.

“It’s a ‘sell first, ask questions later’ mentality,” said Ryan Larson, head of equity trading at RBC Global Asset Management in Chicago.

[UPDATED at 1:10 p.m.: The Dow ended down 228.48 points, or 1.9%, to 11,984.61, its first close below 12,000 since Jan. 31.]

Saudi dissidents have called for a "day of rage" on Friday to demand social reforms. The government has banned all protests.

World markets had been hit earlier Thursday by news of slowing Chinese export growth and by Moody’s Investors Service’s downgrade of Spain’s debt, the latter a reminder that Europe’s debt crisis was far from solved. Major European stock markets lost between 1% and 1.6% for the session.

Early in the day, investors were selling not just stocks but also most commodities on global-growth concerns. Crude oil futures in New York were down as much as $3.76 a barrel at about 8 a.m. PST, to $100.62.

But the Saudi report has triggered a rush back into oil. U.S. futures jumped to $103.39 a barrel by about 11 a.m. PST. Markets naturally are unnerved by any perceived threat to the Saudi regime. The Saudi government on Wednesday said it had boosted oil production by 1 million barrels a day in February to make up for Libyan shortfalls.

Gold, which was off as much as $26 an ounce earlier, to $1,403, has rebounded to $1,413 on Saudi worries.

Some investors also were pouring into U.S. Treasury bonds for safety. The five-year T-note yield has fallen to a five-week low of 2.07% from 2.15% on Wednesday.

-- Tom Petruno 

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