Dow tumbles into four-digit territory

Blue-chip stocks take their turn at the whipping post as widespread selling sends the Dow Jones industrial average down 317 points, or 3 percent, to 9,973.46.

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Blue-chip stocks took their turn at the whipping post Wednesday as widespread selling sent the Dow Jones industrial average down 317 points, or 3 percent, to 9,973.46.

This marks the index's first fall below the 10,000-point marker since October.

Landing back below the 2,000-point threshold, the Nasdaq composite index fell 43 points to close at 1,972.02.

While investors are still disappointed by slumping corporate sales and profits, the prospects of the economic slowdown spreading to Japan and Europe revved the selling into overdrive.

"You are in the vicious cycle now," said Gary Kaltbaum, a technical analyst for First Union Securities. "It's where we close bad, and then Japan has a bad night, and then the European markets open lower, and we follow them."

Making matters worse, the Japanese government confirmed that its economy has moved into a state of deflation. For months, Japan has been downplaying the possibility of deflation, an economic situation that can lead to recession.

Compared to their blue-chip brethren, technology stocks actually got off easy Wednesday.

WorldCom got a boost after CEO Bernie Ebbers denied industry rumors that the company may cut its growth outlook. Its shares moved up $1.25 to 16.44.

Cisco Systems lost $1.13 to $20.25, and Nortel Networks closed off $1.11 to $15.37.

Lucent Technologies said it was considering selling its fiber-optics unit. The news came as the company began a massive restructuring plan, hoping to reverse substantial losses and cut expenses by as much as $2 billion. Its shares ended off 23 cents to $11.02.

Microsoft shares slid 19 cents to $54, while Oracle and Sun Microsystems fell 88 cents and 69 cents a share, respectively.

Among widely held PC stocks, Dell added 38 cents to $24.31, Compaq inched up a penny to $18.39, Gateway moved up 21 cents to $16.11 and Apple Computer gained 75 cents to $20.31.

Good news wasn't enough to help Comverse Technology. The company's shares tumbled $3 to $67 even though it beat analysts' fourth-quarter estimates. Analysts worried that Comverse's revisions to its expectations were signs of bad news to come.

Another top executive has left Yahoo. Chief sales and marketing officer Anil Singh will leave the company in May and will not stay on as a consultant as had been planned previously. Yahoo shares closed off 75 cents to $15.31.

eBay clipped 31 cents to $34.13. America Online Time Warner shed 66 cents to $40.04, and Inktomi lost 48 cents to $6.12.

Shares of CMGI fell 63 cents to $3.28 after it posted another huge loss in its latest quarter.

Advanced Micro Devices moved up 20 cents to $23.98, while Intel and IBM closed off 38 cents and $3.44 a share, respectively.

Staff and Reuters contributed to this report.