Business & Finance

For the second straight day, the widely watched Nikkei index slid to a 19-year low on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The index, which shed 304.6 points Tuesday, dropped another 141.9 Wednesday, closing at 9,075.01, its lowest since Sept. 17, 1983. Over the past seven sessions, the Nikkei has lost almost 10 percent of its value. Analysts – saying, "It's like staring into a bottomless pit right now" – blamed the decline on concern about the global economy, especially that of the US, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 355 points Tuesday, its fifth consecutive decline. In Tokyo, the tumble again was led by major banks. And the unease deepened just after Wednesday's close, when the credit-rating agency Moody's issued a report predicting "catastrophic" results if market reforms were attempted in the Japanese banking sector. Moody's said the system is too weak to withstand them and that removing government protections could trigger a run on deposits by account-holders. Collectively, Japan's banks are carrying $444 billion in noninterest-bearing loans.

Due to low demand, US airlines will ground 3,200 flights – or 11 percent of domestic service – next Wednesday, the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Financial Times reported. Transatlantic schedules also will be cut by about 10 percent, the newspaper said. In a related development, the International Air Transport Association projected that passenger and cargo traffic will return to pre-Sept. 11 levels by the end of next year, after heavy losses to the airline industry.

Napster, the controversial music-swapping website, laid off its remaining workers and was expected to liquidate assets after a bankruptcy judge in Delaware blocked its planned sale to Bertelsmann AG, the German media giant. The judge ruled that Napster chief Konrad Hilbers, a former Bertelsmann employee, had conflicting loyalties. The Redwood City, Calif., company has been offline since July 2001 as a result of copyright-infringement lawsuits by major record labels.

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