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Wall Street can’t shake volatility

Stocks plunge on growing world, economic concerns

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NEW YORK — Stocks fluctuated in turbulent trading Friday as Wall Street contended with political and economic uncertainty, as well as technical factors that can make the market volatile in the best of times.

The Dow Jones industrials had several big swings — falling 313 points in the opening minutes of trading, surging to a gain of more than 50 points an hour later and then falling back to another loss of more than 160. The Dow has already declined more than 1,229 points this week and without a huge rally Friday would set a record for a weekly point drop.

Analysts said the volatility could be explained only in terms of how scared investors are right now. The market was clearly uneasy as it awaited the United States' anticipated retaliation for last week's terrorist attacks. Wall Street is extremely nervous about the economy and national security.

"This is an extraordinarily emotion-filled stock market environment," said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at First Albany. "Investors are scrambling to defend their nest eggs."

At midday, the Dow was down 171.81 at 8,204.40, a loss of 2.1 percent.

The NASDAQ composite index was down 54.09 or 3.7 percent at 1,416.84, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 22.68 or 2.3 percent to 961.86.

Four stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange — an improvement over the 10-to-1 ratio in early trading.

While the market historically falls in the first few weeks or months following catastrophes and other conflicts, such as the Persian Gulf war in 1991, and then heads higher over the long term, Johnson said that is no comfort to investors right now.