NEW YORK (AP) - Wall Street fell sharply again Thursday after a French bank said it was freezing three funds that invested in U.S. subprime mortgages because it was unable to properly value their assets. The Dow Jones industrials fell more than 300 points.
The announcement by BNP Paribas raised the specter of a widening impact of U.S. credit market problems. The idea that anyone - institutions, investors, companies, individuals - can't get money when they need it unnerved a stock market that has suffered through weeks of volatility triggered by concerns about available credit and bad subprime mortgages.
A move by the European Central Bank to provide more cash to money markets intensified Wall Street's angst. Although the bank's loan of more than $130 billion in overnight funds to banks at a low rate of 4 percent was intended to calm investors, Wall Street saw the step as confirmation of the credit markets' problems. It was the ECB's biggest injection ever.
The Federal Reserve added a larger-than-normal $24 billion in temporary reserves to the U.S. banking system.
The ECB's injection of money into the system is an unprecedented move, said Joseph V. Battipaglia, chief investment officer at Ryan Beck & Co., adding that it offers evidence that the problems in subprime lending are, in fact, spilling into the general economy.
"This is a mini-panic," he said. "All the things that had been denied up until this point are unraveling. On top of this, retail sales were mediocre, which shows that indeed, the housing collapse is affecting the consumer."
Retailers released their July sales figures Thursday, offering what were overall disappointing figures.
Bonds rose sharply as investors again sought the relative safety of Treasurys, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year note falling to 4.79 percent from 4.89 percent late Wednesday. Bond prices move opposite yields.
The Fed didn't soften its stance on inflation after leaving short-term interest rates unchanged Tuesday. However, the renewed credit market concerns spurred bond traders who bet on its next move to predict early in the session that the Fed will cut rates at its meeting next month. Prior to Thursday, investors had seen about a 1 in 4 chance of such a cut.
In late trading, the Dow fell 308.50, or 2.26 percent, to 13,349.36.
Thursday's pullback continued an erratic pattern of triple-digit moves in the Dow since the index posted a record close of 14,001.41 on July 19. In the 14 sessions since then, 10 have seen a triple-digit gains or losses. Gains have evaporated at the first mention of trouble in housing, subprime lending or the credit markets.