Apple Sell-off Caps Tough Day for Stocks

Stocks plunged Wednesday on banking worries and much weaker than expected retail sales, and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) made matters worse after the close by announcing that CEO Steve Jobs will take a medical leave of absence.

The uncertainty over the health of one of the tech industry’s leading names came on a day when the sector was already reeling over the bankruptcy of Nortel (NYSE: NT).

Apple shares lost 10% in late trading, and Nasdaq 100 futures were nearly 2% lower after a 3.7% drop during the day. Nortel shares last traded in the morning at 7.5 cents, down from Tuesday’s 32-cent close, before the stock was halted.

A new round of worries about the health of Citigroup (NYSE: C) and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) hit the broader market, along with a 2.7% December drop in retail sales and a downbeat assessment of the economy from the Federal Reserve. JP Morgan (NYSE: JPM) and Citigroup will report earnings in the next two days — while Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) will report its results tomorrow night.

Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) was the only one of the 25 most heavily-traded Nasdaq stocks to end the day with a gain, up 2.5% on a new CEO and speculation that it could reach a search deal with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT).

eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) lost 8.6% after Thomas Weisel Partners lowered estimates on the company.

Rackable Systems (NASDAQ: RACK) fell 15% on a warning, and AMD (NYSE: AMD) fell 10% on an Auriga U.S.A. “sell” rating.

Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) finally fell victim to profit-taking, down 15%.

CryptoLogic (NASDAQ: CRYP) gained 15% ahead of an investor update.

The Nasdaq tumbled 56 to 1489, the S&P 500 fell 29 to 842, and the Dow lost 248 to 8200. Volume rose to 6.18 billion shares on the NYSE, and declined to 1.98 billion on the Nasdaq. Decliners led by a 33-5 margin on the NYSE, and 23-5 on the Nasdaq. Downside volume was 96% on the NYSE, and 92% on the Nasdaq. New highs-new lows were 13-98 on the NYSE, and 2-80 on the Nasdaq.

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