MONDAY: Wall Street Blows a Fuse

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NEW YORK: When the trading returned, so did the panic. The Dow fell 554.75 Monday the largest point drop ever causing two electronic shut-downs that ended trading for the day.

"It's a panic sell," said one Wall Street financial adviser. "This is the mini-crash that everyone has been expecting, and it obviously started in Hong Kong. But there's not a lot of concrete financial reasoning for a sell-off of this degree. It's mostly emotional."

Frenzied traders used the resumption of trading at 3:07 p.m. as an opportunity to throw more slips on the fire: In less than a half-hour, the index had reached its second emergency milestone with a further drop of 200 points.

President Clinton, briefed by Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, kept watch as the panic progressed. But as TIME White House correspondent Jef McAllister says, "There's really nothing the President can do about this." Indeed, given Alan Greenspan's long-held belief in the market's "irrational exuberance", he may not want to: "A day or two of this isn't going to result in much gnashing of teeth in the White House," adds McAllister. Nevertheless, a stop-gap statement arrived via press secretary Mike McCurry: "The President is confident the fundamentals of the American economy are strong ... that's what matters most."

That is likely little comfort to the aghast viewers of financial news networks around the dial. The NASDAQ has fallen over 115 points, and declining issues outnumber advancers by a grave 15-to-1.

But as always in these economic salad days, there's a context: In 1987, when the electronic curbs were put in place, the Dow's 508 point drop was 22.5 percent of its value. Today's loss was around 7 percent.

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