Tech Stocks Plunge on Eve of Bailout Vote

Fears that the paralyzing credit crisis gripping the U.S. could dampen technology spending hit tech stocks again on Thursday, sending the Nasdaq 4.5% lower to a fresh three-year low.

Of the 25 most heavily traded Nasdaq stocks, only one ended the day higher, and it took a buyout offer for Atmel (NASDAQ: ATML) to accomplish that. Atmel soared 34% on the offer from Microchip (NASDAQ: MCHP) and On Semi (NASDAQ: ONNN).

Nearly half the Nasdaq most active list had losses of 7% or more, including Intel (NASDAQ: INTC), Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY), Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM), Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA), Juniper Networks (NASDAQ: JNPR), Broadcom (NASDAQ: BRCM) and Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA).

eBay fell after Morgan Stanley cut estimates and downgraded the company, and Juniper, KLA-Tencor (NASDAQ: KLAC) and Akamai (NASDAQ: AKAM) were hit by downgrades too.

Micron (NYSE: MU) rose 4% despite missing estimates in what the company called a challenging environment.

IBM (NYSE: IBM) fell 5% a day after dropping 6% on worries about its upcoming earnings report.

Click Software (NASDAQ: CKSW) jumped 24% after raising guidance, while (NASDAQ: TREE) fell 25% after announcing its earnings reporting date.

The broader market was hit by the latest evidence of a slowing economy and rising unemployment. Friday morning — before the House takes up the president’s massive rescue bill again after rejecting it on Monday — the Labor Department will issue its monthly jobs report, which is expected to show a loss of 100,000 jobs last month.

The Nasdaq lost 92 to 1976, the S&P fell 46 to 1114, and the Dow tumbled 348 to 10,482. Volume rose to 6.33 billion shares on the NYSE, and 2.22 billion on the Nasdaq. Decliners led 29-5 on the NYSE, and 23-5 on the Nasdaq. Downside volume was 89% on the NYSE, and 95% on the Nasdaq. New highs-new lows were 11-629 on the NYSE, and 6-402 on the Nasdaq.

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