Stocks plunged around the world Tuesday as fears spread that Europe's attempt to contain Greece's debt crisis would fail. The dollar spiked against the embattled euro, sending prices for oil and other commodities sharply lower.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell about 250 points, erasing its 143-point gain from Monday. The Dow and broader indexes each fell more than 2 percent. Treasury prices rose on increased demand for safety investments.
Stocks have seesawed sharply in the past week as Europe's efforts to agree on a bailout package for Greece proceeded in fits and starts.
An agreement finally came together over the weekend, but its ballooning size of $144 billion has investors worried that Europe would have an even tougher time assembling an aid package if a larger country such as Spain or Portugal were to get in trouble.
Meanwhile, protests erupted throughout Greece against the spending cuts the country has promised to make in order to receive the bailout loans.
A general strike has been called for Wednesday. Greece agreed on Sunday to slash public spending by $40 billion to secure the loans.
While Greece's economy is relatively small, investors worry that other cash-strapped European governments could follow Greece into asking for emergency loans. Markets have been increasingly skeptical that Europe can act on its own restore the credibility of its shared currency, the euro.
"Everybody is worried about who is going to be next," said Scott Fullman, director of derivatives investment strategy for WJB Capital Group in New York.
The euro again fell against the dollar as traders turned away from the currency, which is used by 16 European Union countries including Greece.
The euro hit its lowest level in a year. Investors have punished the euro over the past few months over doubts that Europe would be able to enforce fiscal discipline in Greece and other weak countries in the region in order to protect the euro.
The rising dollar is a negative for U.S. investors since it would cut into profits for U.S. companies that heavily rely on foreign operations.
When the dollar is up, overseas profits translate into less money. The strong dollar also sends prices for basic materials like oil higher, which hurts manufacturing companies.
In late morning trading, the Dow fell 255.60, or 2.3 percent, to 10,896.23. It is the Dow's fifth move of more than 100 points in the past six days. The Dow jumped 143 points Monday after sliding 159 on Friday.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 29.83, or 2.5 percent, to 1,172.43. The Nasdaq composite index fell 80.33, or 3.2 percent, to 2,418.41.
Investors rushed to safety holdings like Treasuries, pushing down yields. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 3.62 percent from 3.69 percent late Monday.
The Chicago Board Options Exchange's Volatility Index, which is known as the market's fear gauge, soared 21 percent. That is a signal that more investors are betting on big drops in the market.
The dollar rose against other major currencies, especially the euro. The euro sank as low as $1.3038 in New York, its weakest point since April 2009. It was worth $1.3212 late Monday and had traded as high as $1.51 last November, before the extent of Greece's debt crunch had become apparent.
Crude oil fell to $2.70 to $83.49 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Stronger economic reports were of little help to stocks.
The Commerce Department said orders to U.S. factories rose 1.3 percent in March. Analysts expected a drop. The National Association of Realtors said its index of sales agreements for previously occupied homes rose a stronger-than-expected 5.3 percent in March.
About six stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 400 million shares compared with 302 million traded at the same point Monday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 20.06, or 2.7 percent, to 712.76.
In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.8 percent, Germany's DAX index dropped 2.5 percent, and France's CAC-40 tumbled 3.5 percent.
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