Nightly News   |  August 04, 2011

Stocks in free-fall

Thursday's dramatic market plunge capped the worst 10-day period in stocks in more than two years, as panic in Europe spread. CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

WILLIAMS: Good evening.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: This was a dark Thursday for a lot of Americans. Look at the pictures showing the faces on the Wall Street trading floor late today just before the closing bell. Every time we see photos like these, it means something bad has happened, and today was one of those days . And their expressions mean it just can't be good for the rest of us . The numbers tell the story. The financial markets , led by the Dow , fell off a cliff, down 512 points.

WILLIAMS: And what's troubling here is, while that means real losses for Americans who can't afford to lose money right now, this financial problem is being triggered from overseas. It's where we begin tonight, using the resources of our financial network CNBC , beginning at the exchange and Maria Bartiromo . Maria , what happened today?

MARIA BARTIROMO reporting: Brian , what a day. The selling really started in Europe , where a crisis over debt is accelerating throughout the eurozone. Then in the US, things happened quickly. Right at the open, the focus was on the US economy . It was going on throughout the close. And in the final hour of trading, things accelerated. In fact, the market dropped 155 points just in that last hour of trading, as the new worry emerged that this so-called soft patch in the economy is quickly turning into quicksand. Today's dramatic plunge capped the worst 10-day period in stocks in more than two years as panic spread throughout Europe. Back home, weekly unemployment claims showed little improvement. Even the good news was bad. Retail stores posted solid sales, but a lot of that came from heavy discounting, as retailers worked hard to get people to open their wallets.

Mr. JES STALEY (JPMorgan Chase): Everyone in business wants to get more people working, wants to get more consumer spending. We haven't found the way out yet.

BARTIROMO: Gold, thought to be a safe haven, dropped more than $7. Oil closed at 86.63 a barrel as traders sold off whatever they could to cover their losses.

(down arrow) $5.30 $86.63 A Barrel

Mr. ART CASHIN (UBS Director of Floor Operations): Three's an old Wall

Street saying: When you can't sell what you want to sell, you sell whatever you can sell, including your grandmother's necklace.

Unidentified Man: It's gone from contained to contagious.

BARTIROMO: Fears about market uncertainty spread quickly today, Internet headlines and blogs feeding the fire, sparking new worries about an already volatile stock market . Nearly two billion shares were traded at the New York Stock Exchange alone, much heavier than usual. And that sell-off is global. Markets in Europe were down 3.4 percent, hitting the lowest level in over a year, as the financial crisis in Greece spread to Italy , one of the Europe 's largest economies.

Mr. CASHIN: Every morning now we check in to see what's happening in Europe. Are the banks still OK? Have -- has there been any crisis? Has anybody declared insolvency? And until that uncertainty is resolved, it will be tough to pull this back together.

BARTIROMO: From the stock market to this farmers market in Chicago , the uncertainty taking a toll.

Ms. CAROLYN UTRECH (Retiree): I worry about seniors. I worry about poor people . I think there's a lot of people in trouble right now.

Mr. KEVIN BLANCHARD (Unemployed Salesman): Each and every day I'm catching absolute hell trying to pay my rent, trying to pay bills. The thing that scares me is I'll be on the streets.

BARTIROMO: And tomorrow will be another big day tomorrow as the market is expecting weak jobs numbers for the month of July. That report, no doubt, Brian , will dictate whether or not this selling continues. Back to you.

WILLIAMS: Boy, scary indeed. Maria Bartiromo starting us off from the exchange tonight. Maria , thanks. We're