Stocks Crack Under the Pressure

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Equity players, exhausted and wobbly after three previous sessions of stress and strain, pushed the major indices up a tough slope this morning but couldn't dig in their pitons. They tumbled down the other side of Mount Rally in the afternoon.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

, down as much as 99.59 in the first few trading minutes and up as much as 36.34 just after noon EST, dropped steadily through the day's last four hours and cracked through the 7400 support level. The blue-chips closed down 125.00, or 1.7%, at 7381.67, with

J.P. Morgan

(JPM) - Get Report

,

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

and

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

leading the losers. Only

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

,

Exxon

(XON) - Get Report

and

Goodyear

(GT) - Get Report

managed to rise, with

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

finishing unchanged.

Other major indices went the same way, finishing at or near their intraday lows. The broad

S&P 500

lost 15.48, or 1.7%, to 903.68, the tech-bewitched-bothered-and-bewildered

Nasdaq Composite Index

shed 32.34, or 2%, to 1570.41 and the small-cap

Russell 2000

slid 6.21, or 1.4%, to 428.66. Much equity money fled to fixed-income, with the bellwether 30-year Treasury bond bouncing 23/32 to 103 in price as its yield eased to 6.15%.

"I would say that the market felt like it lost some buying power late in the afternoon," said Jon Olesky, head of block trading at

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

. "I don't want to put this under a microscope, but it may be that people got too aggressive spending cash on Tuesday. Yesterday was really a win because people digested Tuesday's move without giving much of it back."

Olesky said he was particularly disturbed by today's anemic performance among big multinationals. "Names that came back with real punch

on Tuesday today were surprisingly weak," he said. "By this afternoon you had no trouble moving

General Motors

down, moving

Ford

down -- and moving them sharply." Dow component General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

declined 2 to 66. Ford, which announced a 1.1 million-vehicle safety recall, downshifted 1 3/4 to 43 7/8.

Fears of what tomorrow might hold played a part in the swift late-day slide, Olesky said, as investors rushed to sell ahead of others rushing to sell. "By 3 o'clock, when the market was setting up to be down on the day and down sharply, you had investors saying, 'If the market closes on its lows for the day, what does that do for Hong Kong and Tokyo?' " he said. He expects things to get "sloppy" overnight on the already-battered Asian bourses, in turn pressuring U.S. equities as the domino effect cascades once more around the globe.

Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at

First Albany

, remarked around 1 p.m. EST that he hoped today would match yesterday for intraday volatility and end-of-day indecisiveness. "Markets that may have intraday large swings but are relatively range-bound or trendless over time would be helpful," he said. "We've just got to get farther and farther away from Southeast Asia and refocus on earnings and refocus on the underlying economy in the U.S."

Furthering the transaction-fees bonanza this week has been for brokerages, volume remained robust today as breadth soured. On the

New York Stock Exchange

, 2,159 decliners stomped 784 advancers on 712.2 million shares. That was the Big Board's third-highest volume ever, after Tuesday's 1.2 billion shares and yesterday's 777.7 million. New NYSE lows topped new highs by 37 to 28. Nasdaq decliners swatted advancers by 3,062 to 1,528 on 764.9 million shares. New lows outpaced new highs by 92 to 64.

Thursday's market action

(earnings estimates from

First Call

):

ACC

(ACCC)

soared 12 5/16, or 45.5%, to 39 3/8 after

Tel-Save

(TALK)

offered $50 per share in stock for the company -- if ACC calls off its planned $46 million stock acquisition of

US WATS

(USWI)

. If ACC and US WATS do merge, the Tel-Save offer falls to $40 per share. ACC said it would review the Tel-Save entreaty. Tel-Save dropped 1 7/16 to 22 1/2 and US WATS gave up 3/32 to 1 25/32.

Waste Management

(WMX)

was trashed 5 3/4, or 19.8%, to 23 1/4 after its CEO and its CFO separately late

yesterday announced their resignations. Chairman and CEO Ronald LeMay left after just three months to return to his old job as president and COO of

Sprint

(FON)

, which was off 1 3/4 to 50 7/8. CFO John Sanford quit to become CFO of

CDI

(CDI)

, which gained 3/4 to 38 3/4. A steady stream of firms downgraded WMX, including

Merrill Lynch

,

Smith Barney

,

Bear Stearns

,

Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette

,

Goldman Sachs

and

Salomon Brothers

.

Pegasystems

(PEGA) - Get Report

plummeted 9 1/2, or 34.2%, to 18 3/8 after it said it was rescheduling its third-quarter earnings release because of unanticipated issues raised by its auditors. Goldman Sachs downgraded Pegasystems to market outperform from the recommended list.

PC stocks were all over the map during the session as the bulls and bears squared off, with the bears seeming to win the day.

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

plunged 5 1/2 to 78 as positive moves from Merrill Lynch and Salomon Brothers failed to counter a downgrade to buy from strong buy at

BT Alex. Brown

.

Compaq

(CPQ)

, like Dell the beneficiary of a Salomon upgrade and a Merrill reiteration, sloughed off 2 3/16 to 61 1/4. Salomon restarted coverage of

Gateway 2000

(GTW)

at hold; it lost 1 7/16 to 28. The firm restarted

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

at underperform, sending it down 1 to 16 1/2.

Chip giant

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

was chopped 4 7/16 to 75 3/4 after

UBS Securities

downgraded it to hold from buy and trimmed 1997 and 1998 earnings estimates.

Life Bancorp

(LIFB)

rocketed 6 5/16, or 26.9%, to an all-time high of 29 15/16 after it agreed to be acquired by

BB&T

(BBK) - Get Report

for $359.2 million in stock. BB&T lost 1 11/16 to 54 1/2.

Data General

(DGN)

whistled down 4 3/8, or 18.7%, to 19 after reporting fourth-quarter earnings of 35 cents per share, 2 cent shy of the 10-analyst consensus estimate but up from the year-ago 24 cents. The company warned of slowing sales in its new CLARiiON product line.

Silicon Graphics

(SGI)

fell 1 1/2, or 9.5%, to 14 1/4 after it announced late

yesterday a broad shakeup, including the resignation of Chairman and CEO Ed McCracken.

Boston Chicken

(BOST)

molted 2 3/16, or 17.5%, to 10 7/16 after reporting third-quarter earnings of 16 cents per share. That missed the 13-analyst view by 4 cents and fell short of the year-ago 26 cents. The company said its board recommended transforming the company from a franchiser to a 100% company-owned restaurant concern.

PhyCor

(PHYC)

was slammed 5, or 17.3%, to 24 after announcing late

yesterday that it plans to acquire

MedPartners

(MDM)

for $6.8 billion, plus the assumption of $1.2 billion in debt. MedPartners slipped 1 1/8 to 25 3/4. Merrill Lynch downgraded PhyCor to near-term neutral from accumulate, maintaining a long-term buy.

EDS

(EDS)

powered up 5 1/4, or 16.1%, to 37 7/8 after reporting late

yesterday third-quarter earnings 2 cents per share better than expected.

Deutsche Morgan Grenfell

upgraded the stock to accumulate from hold and Goldman Sachs raised it to market outperform from market perform.

Quaker Fabric

(QFAB)

was slashed 3 1/2, or 15.6%, to 19 after reporting late yesterday third-quarter earnings of 35 cents per share. That missed the three-analyst expectation by 6 cents but bettered the year-ago 24 cents.

Vivid Technologies

(VVID)

jumped 1 11/16, or 15.3%, to 12 3/4 after reporting fourth-quarter earnings of 20 cents per share. That beat the four-analyst forecast by a penny and was up from the year-ago 1 cent.

Telebras

(TBR)

skidded 13/32 to 47 1/32 despite inking a deal to sell $3 billion worth of jets to that human-rights paradise, China.

McLeodUSA

(MCLD)

rose 2 to 35 3/4 after signing a 30-city long-distance connection agreement with

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

. AT&T declined 1/4 to 48 1/8.

Lexmark

(LXK)

surrendered 2 1/4 to 30 1/2 after it priced an offering of 9 million shares at $31 per share. The company also set a buyback of 3 million shares at $29.90 per share.

Bankers Trust

(BT)

fell 3 13/16 to 118 3/8 as it removed itself from the bidding for the stock business of

BZW

, a unit of the U.K.'s

Barclays Bank

(BCS) - Get Report

rose 1 1/2 to 33 on news of a 48% surge in its October same-store sales.