All of the simmering concerns that have been weighing on Wall Street for the past week or so exploded on Thursday. The potential for an escalation of tensions in Ukraine as Russia moves troops toward the border, combined with new worries about the pace of China's economic growth to send stocks plunging.
The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) tumbled 231 points (1.4 percent), the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) slid 22 points (1.2 percent), and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 63 points (1.5 percent). The Dow has now lost ground every session this week.
It was a broad-based sell off, with technology stocks, energy, financials and transports all ending the day lower. Many investors were putting their money into safer areas -– utility stocks and U.S. Treasuries.
Among the blue chips, Boeing (BA) fell 2 percent. It has lost altitude for five straight days, ever since the Malaysian Airlines 777 went missing Friday.
Pfizer (PFE) lost nearly 3 percent, after a ruling Wednesday invalidated its patent protection on the blockbuster painkiller Celebrex. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%And General Electric (GE) lost 1.5 percent on news that it plans to spin off its retail finance unit in an IPO.
Transportation stocks -- airlines, railroads, package delivery firms -- were all weak. Delta Air Lines (DAL) and Kansas City Southern (KSU) both lost 3 percent. And energy stocks fell. Tesoro (TSO) and Transocean (RIG) both lost about 3 percent.
Elsewhere, Herbalife (HLF) lost another 5 percent as the FTC investigates its business practices.
General Motors (GM) fell more than 2 percent. It now says it knew about the faulty ignition switches on some cars as far back as 2001.
And Dollar General (DG) fell 3 percent on a disappointing outlook.
There weren't many winners, but we did find a few good ones.
Williams-Sonoma (WSM) gained nearly 10 percent on strong sales at its Pottery Barn and West Elm divisions. Plug Power (PLUG) continued its wild ride, jumping 17 percent, as its loss narrowed. Take a look at the see-saw ride the fuel cell company has been over the past week. And Amazon.com (AMZN) edged higher after increasing the cost of its Prime subscription program by $20, to $90 a year. Analysts say that should generate a lot more revenue.
What to Watch Friday:
The Labor Department releases its Producer Price Index for February at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
The University of Michigan releases its initial survey of consumer sentiment for March at 10 a.m.
These major companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial statements:
After Market: China and Russia Put Stocks in the Red
Don't parse every receipt and monthly bank statement, says Wenli Wang, a partner in the tax practice at Moss Adams in San Francisco. "Do some homework, so you know what is deductible and what is not," she says. "When you understand what is relevant to your tax prep, you’ll have a game plan."
"Clients spend a lot of time chasing small deductions. I tell them not to go crazy documenting $5 here or $10 there. Concentrate on bigger expenses that save the most in taxes," Wang adds. "And don’t spend money on unnecessary expenses just to save on your taxes."
Avoid such audit triggers as running a cash business, claiming large deductions on minimal income, and reporting dependent exemptions for people who may not actually be your dependents for tax purposes, says Ebong Eka, a Washington accountant and author of "Start Me Up: The No-Business-Plan Business Plan."
If you report a business loss year after year, you risk having the IRS declare your company a hobby, says Mark MacLeod, an accountant and chief financial officer for FreshBooks. "Filling in your Schedule C with nice, even, rounded numbers in the hundreds or thousands is another red flag," he adds.
Buy an accounting system that automates your back office tasks, including tracking income and tax-deductible expenses. There are free and low-cost software packages available, too. FreshBooks' MacLeod -- who obviously has a dog in the fight -- advises business owners to steer clear of software that's designed for professional accountants. "If it's too complicated, you won't understand it and then you won’t use it," he says.
Spare your sanity by hiring a professional who will do right by your tax return while you work for your clients or drum up new business. "What is your time worth?" MacLeod asks. "If you're a graphic designer charging $100 an hour or more, do you want to spend hours on taxes?"
Running late and wilting under the pressure? "File an extension," Berger advises. "If you wait until the last minute, you'll make a lot of mistakes and you could miss the deadline anyway."
If you owe money, pay up. Or at least pay part of your liability and get on a payment plan for the rest. "Clients worry about owing money they don't have. But it's important to file your return on time, or file an extension at least," Berger says. Putting it off will only result in fines and penalties down the line -- not a prospect that invites much in the way of zen.