Financial markets in Asia and Europe fell sharply Thursday. The big markets in North America were heading downward much of the day but rebounded at the close. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day with a loss of just 15 points, and the Standard and Poor's index of 500 stocks ended more than four points higher. From Washington, VOA's Michael Bowman has more on what the markets did.

Asian markets set the tone early, with Japan's Nikkei average falling nearly two percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index plummeted 3.3 percent.

The trend was no better in Europe, where Germany's DAX index shed 1.66 percent, France's CAC-40 dropped more then 2.5 percent, and London's FTSE 100 plunged more then three percent.

"The moves have been extremely violent," said Boston-based market analyst Art Hogan.  "We are seeing the kind of volatility we have not seen in about five or six years in this marketplace. It is very difficult for investors to have any confidence in the stock market at his juncture."

Persistent financial headlines concerning tight credit conditions in the United States and elsewhere have prompted major central banks to inject, collectively, hundreds of billions of dollars of cash into banking systems worldwide.

But not everyone is convinced a so-called "liquidity crunch" is solely to blame for recent poor market performance. Sam Stovall, an investment strategist at the U.S.-based financial data group Standard and Poor's, notes that the United States and other nations have enjoyed rising stock markets for several years now, and that all bull markets eventually pull back, erasing some gains.

"Every bull market since 1970 has seen at least one 10-plus percent correction within it," he said. "We have not had one since this bull market was acknowledged in May of 2003. So I think we are overdue."

What no one can say for sure is whether the current global rush to sell stocks signals the end of rising markets, or merely a pause in an upward trend. Speaking on U.S. television, U.S. billionaire investor Warren Buffett suggested market downturns can be useful in that lower stock prices inevitably generate new investment opportunities.