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World Markets Slide Over Ongoing Economic Woes

The Dow fell 133.97, or 1.79 percent, to 7,331.98 in early Friday trading. On Thursday, the Dow fell to its lowest level since Oct. 9, 2002, the depths of the last bear market.

Stocks have slumped or fallen flat over the past two weeks as investors expressed skepticism over the Obama administration’s financial rescue plan and in reaction to weak economic data reports. The market’s inability to rally appears to signal that investors don’t have a sense of when the recession, already 14 months old, will end.

Overseas, stock prices fell almost 2 percent in Japan and plummeted in key European markets Friday, partially in reaction to the Dow’s weak close on Thursday.

Key financial stocks, including Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., dropped in premarket trading after being battered Thursday. Both Citigroup and Bank of America have been among the hardest hit by the crisis in the financial industry and have received billions in government aid to help shore up their books.

Weak fourth-quarter earnings reports from Lowe’s and J.C. Penney also provided new evidence of the recession’s continued impact on the business and retail sectors of the economy.

“You can look at everybody’s trading screen and see nothing but red,” Tim Smalls, head of United States stock trading at Execution LLC in Greenwich, Conn., told the New York Times.

In a monthly report on Friday, the Bank of Japan said economic conditions were deteriorating rapidly and were likely to continue to worsen for the time being.

Asian stocks slumped on Friday to their lowest since early December. Asian finance ministers will consider expanding a currency swap scheme to $120 billion from $80 billion at a meeting this weekend to help protect their economies, Reuters reported.

“People just don’t know where the bottom is,” Desmond Tjiang, Hong Kong-based chief investment officer at Fortis Investment Management, told the Associated Press.

In Thailand, exports plummeted 26.5 percent in January. Asia’s export-driven economies are suffering as demand for cars, cameras and other goods drops off in the West.

European stocks dropped to a six-year low as investors fretted about the prospect of more capital increases and possible bank nationalizations as the economic downturn deepens.

“We’re near the cliff’s edge, very close to capitulation, the mood is very gloomy,” Jean-Claude Petit, head of equities at Barclays Wealth Managers France, told Reuters.

Concerns are also intensifying over the level of exposure of Western European banks to struggling Eastern European economies. Investors headed for safe-haven gold and government bonds, while oil fell.

Germany’s upper house approved a $62.88 billion stimulus package on Friday to help it withstand its worst recession since World War II.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said countries are considering how relatively strong euro zone nations may be able to help weaker members of the currency union, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said consumer prices rose 0.3 percent in January. The rise in the Consumer Price Index, which is a key measure of inflation, was the largest gain since July. The uptick may ease fears that the U.S. could face a protracted stretch of falling prices known as deflation, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, increased 0.2 percent. Economists were anticipating core inflation would rise 0.1 percent.

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