NEW YORK - Traders gave in to another case of last-hour anxiety Monday and drove stocks to their lowest level in seven months.
The Dow Jones industrial average, down just 42 points at 3:15 p.m., closed down 115, or 1.2 percent. That extended the Dow's sharp drop from Friday, when it lost 323 points in response to a disappointing May jobs report. Broader indexes had steeper percentage drops than the Dow on Monday. The technology-focused Nasdaq composite index fell 2 percent. Treasury prices rose as investors searched for safe investments.
There was no obvious catalyst for Monday's late slide, although traders were again preoccupied with Europe's economic problems.
Monday's trading also showed how the market's own dynamics can trigger late selling. Shortly after 3 p.m., the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell below 1,056.74, what had been its low close for the year reached Feb. 8. That encouraged many traders to sell, and as prices came down, computer "sell" programs kicked in, leading to more selling.
Tech stocks, seen as some of the most vulnerable when the economy and the market are troubled, suffered some of the biggest losses. That explains the drop in the Nasdaq index.
But some stocks fell on their own bad news. Google Inc. was one of the big tech losers, falling 2.7 percent after Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called on the company to "come clean" on its collection of personal and business data in the state for its mapping service.
Financial stocks fell after a commission examining the financial crisis issued a subpoena to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Goldman fell 2.5 percent. And Bank of America Corp. lost 3.4 percent after news that the bank would pay $108 million to settle federal charges that its Countrywide Financial Corp. division had collected onerous fees from homeowners nearing foreclosure.
Utility and gold stocks were among the few gainers, a sign that traders want investments considered safe in weak economies. Utility company FirstEnergy Corp. rose 2.7 percent, while Barrick Gold Corp. climbed 4.1 percent.
Some traders say the market isn't likely to stabilize until there is a better sense of how European countries will hold up under heavy cost-cutting that could hamper their economic growth.
The 16-nation euro hit another four-year low. It fell as low as $1.1878 before rising to $1.1915. A drop in the currency is seen as a sign of flagging confidence in Europe's ability to contain its debt without falling back into recession.
Even so, European finance ministers endorsed Estonia's bid to adopt the euro, setting aside the European Central Bank's warning that the Baltic state may struggle to keep inflation under control.
The Dow fell 115.48, or 1.2 percent, to 9,816.49, while the S&P 500 index fell 14.41, or 1.4 percent, to 1,050.47.
The Nasdaq composite index fell 45.27, or 2 percent, to 2,173.90. The Nasdaq stands at its lowest level since Feb. 10.