The Standard & Poor's 500 index slid in a highly erratic session on Wednesday, as concerns about worsening credit conditions persisted and a sharp downturn in the price of oil sent energy companies' shares lower.
The Nasdaq fell, but the Dow was up slightly as the major stock gauges zigzagged. The Dow flipped from positive to negative more than 60 times and the S&P 500 changed direction even more frequently.
Home builder Beazer Homes USA Inc. was down 19 percent at $11.34, even after Beazer denied rumors in the market it would file for bankruptcy protection. The Dow Jones home builder index skidded 3.1 percent.
Shares of Exxon Mobil, which had earlier buoyed the Dow and the S&P 500, fell 0.8 percent to $84.42 as U.S. crude oil futures dropped sharply, after earlier hitting a record.
There's more fear about everything. Everybody's negative and nobody can find anything positive. I think we're getting a little extreme here and may be due for an oversold bounce, said Scott Vergin, portfolio manager at Thrivent Financial in Minneapolis.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 2.84 points, or 0.02 percent, at 13,214.83. But the Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 6.92 points, or 0.48 percent, at 1,448.35. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 12.96 points, or 0.51 percent, at 2,533.31.
Bank and brokerage stocks fell after Bear Stearns Cos. Inc. said it halted redemptions in a hedge fund after nervous investors sought to withdraw money. Two Bear Stearns hedge funds collapsed last month due to the subprime mortgage meltdown.
Bear Stearns stock lost more ground after CNBC television reported Bear Stearns has been sued for allegedly misleading investors about its exposure to subprime mortgages.
Bear Stearns shares slid 4.4 percent to $116 on the NYSE, while an index of brokers' stocks fell 3.1 percent.