Updated from 12:10 p.m. EDT
U.S. stocks continued to dive Wednesday after the
agreed to back and take over insurance giant
The three major indices were losing 3.5% or more in recent trading. The
Dow Jones Industrial Average
was off 370 points to 10,688, and the
slumped 51 points to 1162. The Nasdaq stumbled 96 points to 2111.
After trading closed Tuesday, the
reversed its earlier decision and agreed to offer
an $85 billion bridge loan to bail out the company. In exchange, the government will essentially get a 79.9% equity position in AIG and will charge a hefty interest rate.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson also stipulated that AIG CEO Robert Willumstad leave the company. Edward Liddy, former CEO of
, will replace Willumstad.
"I think the problems at AIG are just so deep and so extensive that it was beyond the private sector to take care of it," said Maryann Hurley, vice president of fixed income trading at DA Davidson. After
Bank of America's
acquisition of Countrywide and
, she said, the private sector would have a hard time swallowing AIG. The choice was to either bail out AIG or allow it to fail, which would have badly shaken the financial system, she said.
However, the AIG bailout doesn't mean the crisis is over. "It would be, I think, not prudent to believe that there aren't other problems out there," said Hurley.
"What the government is telling you is, if you're going to fail, fail massively," said Matthew Smith, vice president and portfolio manager at Smith Affiliated Capital. Smith said that unlike in previous market busts in 1987 and 2000, which were largely tied to stocks themselves, the current market downturn is based in derivatives contracts, making losses more difficult to recoup. In this environment, "If your money goes bust, it explodes like a firecracker," he said.
Smith said that now that the government has bought an insurance company, the question is what company will get bailed out next. "The moral hazard has just gone out the window at this point," he said. "You woke up this morning, and now you and I are the new owners of an insurance company. That's the scam that's being played here."
Earlier in the week, brokerage
filed for bankruptcy and Bank of America staged a last-minute acquisition of Merrill Lynch. Fearing AIG may be next, investors sold the stock down 60% on Monday, then dropped it another 21% on Tuesday.
Late Tuesday, investment bank
that declined 7.7% year over year but beat expectations. Morgan Stanley had been facing pressure as other financial firms buckled.
During Wednesday's session, traders were focusing on both Morgan Stanley and
, which reported earnings early Tuesday.
's Web site reported late Tuesday that Morgan may pursue a partnership in the wake of declines in its stock price. Shares of Morgan Stanley were lately down 36%, while Goldman lost 24%.
was also under pressure, dropping 9% on a report in the
New York Post
that federal regulators were attempting to shop WaMu to
Elsewhere, British bank
announced it would buy Lehman's North American businesses.
Also this morning, the
Securities and Exchange Commission
on all publicly traded companies. The ban takes effect 12:01 a.m. EDT Thursday. Naked short-selling can be used to pressure stocks below their fair market value. Some market observers have pointed to naked shorts as a means to exploit the fearful credit environment for profit while depleting companies' capital levels.
Separately, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have floated the idea of developing a resolution trust similar to the one created during the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s. The government trust would help sort through the securities that contributed to the fall of
The Treasury also announced Wednesday that, in an effort to bolster its own balance sheet as it works to provide liquidity to the market, the
would initiate the sale of additional Treasury notes, starting with a $40 billion auction of 35-day government debt securities.
At the beginning of the year, the Fed had nearly $800 billion in Treasuries. Following commitments including the $200 billion it allocated to the Term Securities Lending Facility the $85 billion loan to AIG, the Fed's holdings will soon be depleted to $195 billion.
The allocation of the Fed's capital to the financial sector marks the largest cash infusion to the private sector by the central bank since the Great Depression.
In the technology sector, memory-chip maker
rebuffed a $5.8 billion buyout bid by
, saying Samsung has undervalued its business.
As for commodities, crude oil was adding $2.70 to $93.85 a barrel, and gold soared $65.30 to $845.80 an ounce.
In terms of economic data, the Census Bureau reported that building permits in the U.S. fell 6.2% to an annual rate of 895,000 -- a 17-year low -- in August. Economists were expecting a more modest decline to a rate of 925,000. Housing starts also dropped to 895,000, shy of analysts' forecasts for 950,000 new homes.
Longer-term U.S. Treasuries were rising. The 10-year was up 6/32 to yield 3.41%, and the 30-year was gaining 14/32, yielding 4.06%. The dollar was falling vs. the yen and pound but inching up against the euro.
Overseas, European exchanges were lower, as the FTSE in London and the Dax in Frankfurt took losses. The Nikkei in Japan closed higher, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng finished on the downside.