Why the Dow Plunged Late Today

After six months of huge gains, the stock market has been giving up ground throughout most of the month so far. Today was certainly no exception, as the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI  ) fell steadily throughout the day and finished with a quick 50-point plunge that led to a 156-point loss for the average. At 12,442, the Dow is now more than 835 points below its May 1 high. Meanwhile, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite (INDEX: ^IXIC  ) got hit even harder, falling more than 2% to bring it almost to the cusp of a 10% correction from its late-March highs. The S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC  ) split the difference, falling 1.5%.

One part of the market that did succeed in reversing its recent slide was the precious-metals complex. Gold rose more than $30 on the day to claw its way back to around the $1,575-per-ounce level, while silver gained $0.75 to climb back above $28 per ounce. Oil prices continued to sag, however.

Facebook announced after the market closed that it has priced its initial public offering at $38 per share. At that level, the social-networking giant has a market capitalization of more than $100 billion. Where it will end up after shares start trading tomorrow is anyone's guess, but many expect an initial pop even with the dour action in the overall stock market.

According to reports, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) may be considering a major cut in its workforce of between 8% and 10%. With HP having more than 300,000 employees, those cuts would be massive yet would be a natural follow-up to CEO Meg Whitman's previously disclosed strategy of combining HP's printer and PC businesses into a single unit. Shareholders responded favorably to the reports, as the stock finished the day fractionally higher.

As for tomorrow, it's hard to predict whether investors will get a rebound. Moody's followed through on an anticipated downgrade of several Spanish banks this afternoon, along with the U.K. subsidiary of Banco Santander (NYSE: STD  ) . With the European crisis clearly nowhere near a resolution, problems could weigh on stock markets around the world for quite a while.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter here. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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