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The Fed's gloomy economic outlook, coupled with apprehension that little can be done to keep the global economy from skidding into another recession, sent market participants ditching risky assets and fleeing into Treasuries in the worst two-day plunge since the financial crisis in 2008.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 391 points, or 3.5%, to 10,734, the S&P 500 fell 37.2 points, or 3.2%, to 1,1230 and the Nasdaq Composite plunged 82.5 points, or 3.3%, 2,456. The FOX 50 shed 24.8 points to 826.
The selloff was broad: more than a quarter of S&P 500 components touched 52-week lows. Volatility, as measured by the VIX, spiked 11%. In a sign of the conviction of the selling, volume was at the highest level since early August.
With global markets and U.S. equities in selloff mode, Treasury prices rallied, shoving yields down. The yield on the 10-year Treasury sunk to 1.726% from 1.868% -- briefly touching a record low multiple times during the session.
Overall, the blue chips have shed close to 700 points, or 6.1% in two trading days. The broader indexes have performed poorly as well: the S&P 500 has shaved 6.2% and the Nasdaq has lost 6%.
While every major sector was down, materials and energy stocks took the biggest beating. Mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper (NYSE:FCX) was recently nearly 9.7% to the downside, while exploration-technology firm Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) shed more than 6%.
The Federal Reserve moved to lengthen the maturity of its balance sheet, an indirect bid to stimulate the economy, at its meeting that concluded on Wednesday as was widely anticipated. The $400 billion scope of the "twist" from short-term to longer-term Treasuries was, however, modestly broader than many economists had been anticipating, according to a research note from Goldman Sachs.
However, the Dow plunged 284 points in less than two hours after the decision that was dubbed "Operation Twist" was announced, in a sign that many market participants are wary that the central bank won't be able to reinvigorate a stalling economy.
"A downbeat outlook for the economy combined with the so-called ‘Operation Twist’ economic stimulus not going far enough in many people’s eyes," David Jones, chief market strategist at IG Index, a London-based trading firm, wrote in a research note.
Weekly claims for unemployment benefits fell to 423,000 last week from a revised 432,000, higher than the 420,000 economists forecast. The number of initial jobless claims have been hovering about the 400,000-mark for weeks -- yet another sign of struggles in the jobs market, a crucial component of broader growth.
Adding to the malaise on Thursday was data from the euro zone and China pointing to continued contraction in manufacturing in both major global economies.
"The monetary measures (unveiled by the Fed), along with Obama’s fiscal package announced earlier this month ... could kick-start the economy," Gavan Nolan, director of credit research at Markit, a risk analysis firm, wrote in a research note.
"But there is a legitimate fear that both monetary and fiscal policy has been too timid and the new measures will be ineffectual."
While global economic and financial concerns have ruled the day in the past two sessions, some analysts seeing opportunities for investors amid the tumult.
"This environment calls for investor caution, but not a full abandonment of risky assets," analysts at Barclays Capital wrote in a note to clients. "Very cheap valuations – especially in the sectors that are most vulnerable to European sovereign debt – suggest that there is considerable upside for patient investors," referencing stocks that have been slammed because of fears that Europe's debt crisis may deepen.
The euro took a beating in early trading, tumbling 1.1% against the U.S. dollar, while the greenback leaped nearly 1% against a basket of world currencies.
Energy markets sold off as well as a result of increased fear that a weakening economy will stunt demand and a considerably stronger dollar. Light, sweet crude fell $5.41, or 6.3%, to $80.51 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline dipped 11 cents, or 4%, to $2.56 a gallon.
Gold plunged $66.40, or 3.7%, to $1,742 a troy ounce.
UTX Technologies (NYSE:UTX) unveiled plans to acquire airplane-part maker Goodrich for $16.4 billion in cash -- a 16% premium to Wednesday's closing price and 47% higher than the price before news initially leaked last Thursday.
FedEx (NYSE:FDX) posted quarterly profits that topped Wall Street's estimates by a penny, but slashed its full-year outlook, sending shares lower.
Honeywell (NYSE:HON) said its expects its third-quarter earnings to come in at the high end of its forecast of 96 cents to $1.01 a share.
The English FTSE 100 plunged 4.7% to 5,042 and the German DAX slumped 5% to 5,164.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 sunk 2.1% to 8,560 and the Chinese Hang Seng shed 4.9% to 17,912.