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) and Wal-Mart ( WMT) managed to trade up, but the rest of the industrials retreated.

Alcoa ( AA) and GM ( GM) ended more than 15% beneath where they started, while JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) slid 14%. Bank of America ( BAC) and American Express ( AXP) had losses exceeding 11%.

Citigroup ( C), 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) and Wal-Mart ( WMT) 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) really is down 16.5% to $5.20. Citigroup ( C) is at $1.01 and earlier went under a buck. GM ( GM) has dropped 17.3% to $1.82, and Bank of America ( BAC) 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) and 3M ( MMM), all down more than 4%. Procter & Gamble ( PG) and United Technologies ( UTX) off 3%.

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) might not be able to keep operating, its auditors say. Citigroup ( C) has fallen under $1 a share. The rest of the financial stocks are tumbling.

Alcoa ( AA) and Caterpillar ( CAT) 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) was the best stock, up 2.7% thanks to its strong sales and dividend hike, while General Electric ( GE) 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.

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