World and Nation

Downward spiral continues as U.S. stocks fall below 10,000

NEW YORK The Dow Jones industrial average, a closely watched barometer of the economy’s health, dipped below the 10,000 threshold on Monday, delivering a psychological setback as investors braced for more market volatility.

When the final bell sounded, the Dow had fallen to 9,908.39 — its lowest level in three months — as lingering fears over a debt crisis in Europe undermined confidence in American financial institutions.

Analysts played down the significance of the Dow’s tumble below the five-digit mark. But they did not deny the broader message it underscored: that the energy of last year’s rally seems to have fizzled as the market comes to terms with the reality of an uneven recovery.

“Investors and traders find solace in 10,000,” said Jeffrey A. Hirsch, editor of The Stock Trader’s Almanac. “While it may not be important technically, falling below that level indicates that the whole economic picture is not as rosy as everyone had thought.”

Wall Street’s focus remained on Europe, where the fallout from swelling deficits in Greece, Spain and Portugal continued to sway global markets. Investors spent Monday trying to gauge how significantly American banks would suffer if European governments could not pay back their loans. They also looked at the effect foreign defaults might have on the availability of credit worldwide.

The cost of insuring debt in Greece, Spain and Portugal continued to rise on Monday, suggesting investors still lacked confidence that those nations would be able to repay their debt.

In the United States, the Dow fell 103.84 points, or 1.04 percent, and the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell 0.89 percent, or 9.45 points, to 1,056.74. The Nasdaq declined 0.7 percent, or 15.07 points, to 2,126.05.

The Dow first rose above 10,000 in 1999. Since then, it has proved to be one of the hardest levels to sustain. The Dow dipped back into four digits in the years after the dot-com bubble deflated, and it reached 10,000 again in late 2003 before peaking above 14,000 in October 2007. Today, the index is about 30 percent below its record high.

In November, the Dow’s surge beyond 10,000 was considered a symbol of the strength of the nascent recovery. But now, as the financial world tries to regain its footing, investors worry it may take some time before the market can sustain a level above 10,000.

Analysts expect volatility to persist as investors assess the threat posed by Europe’s deficits to the global recovery.