NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- U.S. stock markets were plummeting on volatile trading Thursday as mixed earnings reports, concerns about the health of the European economy and financial sector, and the wait for Friday's big nonfarm payrolls report rocked the global markets.
All the benchmark indices were down more than 1%, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DIA) sinking 1.11% to 16,693.48, the S&P 500 (^GSPC) tumbling 1.32% to 1,944.14, and the Nasdaq (QQQ) surrendering 1.65% to 4,389.40. The VIX "fear gauge" was spiking nearly 20% to 15.93 in midday trades.
While each index was still holding onto gains for the year, they've turned negative for the month.
Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan says that a big, much-awaited pullback is coming after numerous false starts. Greenspan told Bloomberg Television's Betty Liu on Wednesday that equity markets will see a decline at some point, after surging for the past several years.
"The stock market has recovered so sharply for so long, you have to assume somewhere along the line we will get a significant correction," said Greenspan.
Oil major ExxonMobil (XOM - Get Report) was giving up 2.22% to $100.96 after its better-than-expected second-quarter earnings were tainted by a 5.7% drop in oil-equivalent production. Whole Foods (WFM - Get Report) was another loser, with shares falling 5.4% to $36.99 after the Austin, Texas-based grocer reported disappointing quarterly same-store sales numbers and lowered its sales outlook yet again. Time Warner Cable (TWC - Get Report) was shedding 2.6% to $147.58 after falling short of Wall Street targets with earnings of $1.89 a share on revenue of $5.73 billion. Tesla (TSLA) is expected to report earnings of 4 cents a share on revenue of $810.61 million after the market close.
Yum! Brands (YUM - Get Report) was losing 5.14% to $69.25 after the restaurant operator said the scare over improper food handling practices by supplier Shanghai Husi resulted in a "significant, negative impact" to both KFC and Pizza Hut's same-store sales in China.
Samsung (SSNLF) and Sony (SNE) both suffered from a shrinking smartphone market. Sony's mobile devices unit said demand is expected to shrink by 14%, meaning that this year the company won't make money on smartphones. Samsung saw its share of the world smartphone market drop to 25.2%, a decline of 7 percentage points.
European stock indices fell on Thursday amid a plethora of earnings reports, as eurozone consumer price figures suggested aggressive central bank tactics haven't shaken off the specter of deflation. In Lisbon, Banco Espirito Santo (BKESY) shares plunged more than 40% as trading resumed after it reported a bigger-than-expected loss of €3.6 billion ($4.8 billion) and fired the starting gun on an emergency capital raising after a key measure of the bank's financial strength fell below the regulatory minimum. Banco Espirito Santo said it might sell its international businesses. BNP Paribas (BNPQY) investors revealed a record €4.32 billion ($5.8 billion) quarterly loss because of the French bank's mammoth $9 billion fine for breaking U.S. sanctions.
U.S. stocks were mixed on Wednesday -- the Dow Jones Industrial Average down, the S&P 500 flat, and the Nasdaq up -- as the Federal Reserve maintained its federal funds rate and cut monthly bond buying by $10 billion to $25 billion, both moves largely anticipated by Wall Street.