Dow Falls Below 7,000 Points

NEW YORK — The Dow Jones industrial average has plunged below 7,000 as investors grow increasingly pessimistic about the health of banks, and in turn the economy, around the world.

The Dow hadn’t traded below 7,000 since Oct. 28, 1997, and last closed below that mark on May 2 of that year. The credit crisis and recession have now slashed half the average’s value since it hit a record high over 14,000 in October 2007.

Investors are again fleeing stocks in response to bad news about financial companies. The government said it would give American International Group Inc. another $30 billion in loans, in addition to the $150 billion it has already given the insurer. AIG also said it lost $61.7 billion in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, HSBC PLC reported a 70 percent drop in 2008 profit and said it needs to raise $17.7 billion and cut 6,100 jobs.

The Dow is down 133 at 6,929. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is down 14 at 720, and the Nasdaq composite index is off 22 at 1,355.