By TIM PARADIS
Stocks began the fourth quarter with their worst drop in three months after reports on the job market and manufacturing reawakened investors' pessimism about the economy.
The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 203 points Thursday, while all the major indexes fell between 2 percent and 3 percent. The slide intensified in the final minutes of the day, signaling that traders were growing nervous ahead of the government's key September jobs report due before the opening bell Friday.
Bond prices jumped as investors sought a safer place for their money.
It was the sixth drop in seven days for stocks and another reminder of how fragile the market's seven-month rally has become. The economic reports overshadowed a more upbeat assessment on housing and added urgency to questions about how strong the recovery really is.