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Stocks and commodities were pummeled on Wednesday, prompting market participants to seek shelter in safe-haven assets as sentiment on Wall Street dimmed.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 140 points or 1.1%, to 12,159, the S&P 500 slid 15.7 points, or 1.3%, to 1,250 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 35.2 points, or 1.3%, to 2,590.
After the selloff, the broad S&P 500 is 0.64% to the downside for the year, joining the Nasdaq, which is off by 2.4%. The blue chips, however, are still 5% to the upside for 2011.
Gold prices fell for the fifth-straight day, shedding $31.40, or 2%, to $1,564.10 a troy ounce. Silver, another precious metal, plunged 5.2% to $27.19 a troy ounce.
Oil prices fell as well, snapping a six-day winning streak. The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York slid $1.98, or 2%, to $99.36 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline fell 1.4% to $2.651 a gallon.
Energy and basic material shares fell sharply as a result. Financial and industrial stocks took a hit on the day as well. Indeed, out of the blue chips, Bank of America (BAC), aluminum giant Alcoa (AA), and Caterpillar (CAT), the biggest American heavy machinery maker, fell the most.
In a sign of the anxiety, investors bid up safe haven assets as selling heated up in equity markets. The 10-year Treasury yields 1.939% from 2.01%. Yields move in the opposite direction of prices, so as traders move into the bond, the yield falls.
The euro also fell more than 1% against the U.S. dollar, pushing the common currency to an 11-month low against the greenback. Volatility spiked 6.9% as measured by the CBOE's VIX.
Market participants were also focusing on Europe with no major U.S. economic reports on tap for the day.
Italy paid 3.251% to sell roughly $11.8 billion in six-month bonds at its auction on Wednesday, representing a steep drop from the 6.504% it paid at a similar offering in November. Demand was also relatively strong, meaning investors are moving back into the beleaguered sovereign debt market.
The country has an auction of long-term bonds slated for Thursday that is expected to be closely watched on Wall Street. There have been worries that as traders have fled the European sovereign debt marketplace, borrowing costs will continue spiking and potentially shoving borrowing rates well above sustainable levels.
The benchmark 10-year Italian note presently yields 6.79% -- which is elevated, but well off of euro-era highs above the 7% threshold.
European blue chips fell 1.5%, the English FTSE 100 edged lower by 0.1% to 5,507, and the German DAX slumped 2.1% to 5,771.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 fell 0.2% to 8,424 and the Chinese Hang Seng dipped 0.59% to 18,519.