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US Stock Prices Fluctuate, Oil Price Drops

Stocks on Wall Street fluctuated throughout the day Thursday, after markets in Asia and Europe slumped on fears that the U.S. economy is plunging into a long, deep recession. VOA's Kent Klein reports from the White House.

Bad news on the U.S. economy has investors concerned a global economic slowdown could turn into a serious recession.

Major stock indexes in New York turned lower in midday trading Thursday, after U.S. government reports showed industrial output in September fell almost three percent. It was the biggest drop in 34 years. Some stocks later posted gains during volatile trading.

Also, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia reported that manufacturing conditions in its region deteriorated significantly in October.

Some other economic reports were not as bad as had been expected. The U.S. Labor Department says the Consumer Price Index was unchanged in September, and first-time claims for unemployment benefits were down last week.

Stocks elsewhere in the world slumped badly. Tokyo's Nikkei index dropped more than 1,000 points, or 11 percent, its biggest drop since the 1987 stock market crash. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost almost five percent, or 768 points.

In Europe, London's FTSE 100 declined by almost 5.4 percent, the CAC 40 in Paris was off almost six percent, and the DAX in Frankfurt lost almost five percent.

The global economic crisis continues to drive down the price of oil, which briefly dipped below $69 a barrel Thursday. That is less than half its record high in July. Demand for oil has reached its lowest level in nearly 16 months.

Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. President George Bush again tried to ease anxieties about the economy.

"Across the world, citizens are concerned about the financial crisis, and they should be," he said. "And our governments are working together to address it."

Mr. Bush said the recently-enacted $770 billion financial-rescue plan will give markets the boost they need. He said one of the best long-term ways to help restore confidence is to increase trade.

"Last year America set a record by exporting more than $1.6 trillion of goods and services," he said. "Exports now make up the greater share of our gross domestic product than at any time in our history."

The president spoke after signing an extension of an agreement providing trade benefits to Andean nations that cooperate with the United States in the war on drugs. Mr. Bush says he wants to drop Bolivia from the list because it has not lived up to its promises to fight drug trafficking.

"Sadly, I propose to suspend Bolivia's trade preferences until it fulfills its obligations," he said.

The agreement still covers exports from Ecuador and Peru, as well as Colombia, which is awaiting final congressional action on a free-trade deal with the United States.