By Jonathan Cheng
U.S. stocks sank for a third straight day as investors confronted a drop in the euro and steep declines in commodity prices.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average gave up 131.46 points, or 1.10%, to finish at 11823.48, a two-week low. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index lost 13.91 points, or 1.13%, to 1211.82 and the Nasdaq Composite shed 39.96 points, or 1.55%, to 2539.31.
Leading the declines were energy stocks, as commodity prices fell steeply. Caterpillar fell 4.4% to lead the Dow decliners, while Chevron gave up 3% and Exxon Mobil fell 1.4%. Technology stocks were also weak, with Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems dropping 1.6% and 2.7%, respectively.
European markets finished at the day's lows, as sentiment toward Europe's single currency soured after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday she opposed raising the lending limit for the euro-zone bailout fund.
The Stoxx Europe 600 lost 2.1%, and France's CAC 40 index dropped 3.3% for its worst one-day decline in six weeks. The euro also fell below $1.30 for the first time since January, trading recently at $1.2981. The currency has fallen more than 3% this week.
"People have lost faith in Europe," said Mike Boyle, portfolio manager at Advisors Asset Management. "Clearly, the driving force is Europe. The issue is that everyone wants a cure today, and they need time to come to a decent conclusion."
Separately, Italy sold the maximum targeted amount of five-year bonds, but was forced to pay a euro-era high average yield of 6.47% to do so, above the 6.29% paid at the previous auction last month. The country's 10-year bond yield rose back above the key 7% level, to 7.169%. Spain, Italy and France all saw their government bond yields widen over German bunds.
In the U.S., the dollar's strong rise against most of its major counterparts put pressure on commodity prices, many of which are priced in dollars. It has also worried some money managers who had taken encouragement from a recent string of strong economic numbers in the U.S.
"A rising dollar is going to be problematic for us," said Jennifer Ellison, principal at Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough in San Francisco, Calif., who expects the dollar's strength to continue climbing against the beleaguered euro.
"It just puts pressure on the little bits of good news that we've had domestically," Ms. Ellison said. "We're very worried about that."
In Asia, the Shanghai Composite gave up 0.9% to close at its lowest level since March 2009.
Gold futures tumbled 4.6% to settle at $1,584.30 an ounce. That decline, the biggest one-day drop in nearly three months, extended gold's December loss to 9.2% and sent the precious metal to a five-month low. Crude oil futures slumped 5.2% to $94.95 a barrel. Copper dropped 4.7%, while silver tumbled 7.4%. Yields on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.903%, after an auction of 30-year bonds sold at a record low yield of 2.925%.
Data on import and export prices in November showed relatively muted signs of inflation, with import prices ticking up 0.7%, a touch lower than expectations for a 1.1% gain.
In corporate news, shares of Avon Products rallied 5.1% to top the S&P 500 gainers list after the beauty products company said Andrea Jung, currently chairman and chief executive, will relinquish her role as CEO when a replacement is found.
On the downside, First Solar tumbled 21% after the solar-panel maker cut its outlook for the year, citing continued delays in certain projects in its systems business. The company also provided a disappointing 2012 outlook.
Cheniere Energy Inc. slumped 10% after the energy company said it would offer 36 million shares of common stock for sale to the public.