The New York stock markets reopened yesterday after last week’s terrorist catastrophe in that city and Washington DC. It was not a happy comeback, shares plummeting in a wave of panic selling.

Among those hit were Hughes Electronics, the owner of takeover target DirecTV, which ended 8% down; NewsCorp, one of two suitors for DirecTV, saw its shares fall 10% in early trading; while rival Romeo Echostar fell 8%.

Owners of the major TV networks also felt the icy blast. CBS parent Viacom slumped 12.93%; Walt Disney, which owns ABC sank 18.26%; while General Electric, parent of NBC was down 10.85% and AOL Time Warner fell 12.82% to a 52-week low.

On Nasdaq, number one UK cable operator NTL sagged 10% as investors ran scared of its massive $12 billion debt.

Agency stocks fared no better, several hitting new 52-week lows. Among these were Interpublic Group ($23.05, down 8.17%) and Omnicom Group ($67.01, down 8.88%). WPP Group’s America Depository Receipt Shares fell to $41.94, down 11.72%), Havas Advertising ($6.08, down 20.31%), Publicis Groupe ($17.50, down 17.45%) and Cordiant Communications Group ($9.20, down 19.30%).

Alone among the large agency groups – and the only one to trade over its low – Grey Global Group was relatively immune to the panic, perhaps because it is a rumoured to be a takeover target. Its shares fell a mere 4.53% to $600.50.

Media analysts counselled caution amid the frenzy, stressing that it was as yet premature to gauge the effect of last week’s events: “It is too soon to tell. Anything that happens now will be a knee-jerk reaction,” said one analyst. “But clearly the fall-out will not be positive, as anything advertising related will suffer from a fall in consumer confidence.”

News sources: Financial Times; MediaGuardian; Advertising Age - Daily Deadline