Updated from 3:20 p.m. EST

Another Sickening Decline

(At 5:48 p.m. EST)

The horror show on Wall Street finally came to end Thursday with the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

down 281.40 points, or 4.1%, at 6594.44. That's the worst close since April 15, 1997, and it meant $82.5 billion in market capitalization vanished from the index's components.

Let's not kid ourselves. It was a dreadful, terrible day.

Pfizer

(PFE) - Get Report

and

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

managed to trade up, but the rest of the industrials retreated.

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Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

and

GM

(GM) - Get Report

ended more than 15% beneath where they started, while

JPMorgan Chase

(JPM) - Get Report

slid 14%.

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Report

and

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

had losses exceeding 11%.

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

, the most heavily traded stock, shed 9.7% and closed at $1.02 after its session low took it below $1.

With the decline, the Dow has now given back 24.9% this year and 45.2% since this time in 2008. Who knows what to expect Friday. The market is already preparing for a wretched jobs report from the government, so maybe when we get it, we bounce. Maybe when we get it, we just keep going down. Flip a coin.

The Rout Is On

(At 2:45 p.m. EST)

Devastation everywhere you look. Going into the final hour of trading, the

Dow

was plummeting 256 points, or 3.7%, to 6620, meaning it's almost certain the index will close lower for the sixth time in the past seven days.

The rally of one day ago seems like a distant memory. I'm not sure how you have the courage to play this market to the long side. I guess if it's your job, and you have to for some reason, you pick your spots. For everybody else it's get out of the way. Most of us wouldn't sign up to be voluntarily flattened by a steamroller.

Pfizer

(PFE) - Get Report

and

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

were higher, but the other 28 stocks on the Dow were falling, many of them significantly. You look at the selloff in some of these names, and you want to believe you've got bad quotes. You don't.

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

really is down 16.5% to $5.20.

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

is at $1.01 and earlier went under a buck.

GM

(GM) - Get Report

has dropped 17.3% to $1.82, and

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Report

has fallen 10.6% to $3.22.

Before you get the idea it's only the usual suspects, consider the losses in some of the other stocks.

Kraft

(KFT)

,

Coca-Cola

(KO) - Get Report

and

3M

(MMM) - Get Report

, all down more than 4%.

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Report

and

United Technologies

off 3%.

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For some time I've been wondering if we would be in this situation if the banks were never publicly traded. Not government controlled, not nationalized. That's not at all what I'm saying. I mean existing in private hands minus the stock that can go up or down, and which lately is pretty much down and down hard.

I'm willing to bet we could still have a vibrant marketplace for equity securities of companies that offer a slew of products and services, even if the banks and financial firms weren't among them. On top of that, I'll wager that these banks would be able to conduct business just fine. Depositors would deposit, borrowers would borrow. Just something to think about.

No Follow-Through

(At 12:37 p.m. EST)

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

might not be able to

keep operating

, its auditors say.

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

has fallen under $1 a share. The rest of the financial stocks are tumbling.

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

and

Caterpillar

(CAT) - Get Report

are sinking now that

China

doesn't seem to be getting any new stimulus.

Goldman Sachs

says the world economy will do even worse this year than it previously thought.

No repeat of

Wednesday's performance

for the Dow. A day ago, the industrials gained 150 points. Now all of that's gone. Recently, the DJIA was down 193 points at 6683.

At midsession, 28 of the index's 30 components were losing ground.

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

was the best stock, up 2.7% thanks to its strong sales and dividend hike, while

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

edged ahead 0.8% after its CFO said the selling in his company's shares was "overdone."

Otherwise, it was all red numbers. Here's one positive. The Dow's off its session low of 6630.