The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 76.44 points, or 0.6%, to 12932.09, extending its retreat from last week's four-year closing high. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index shed 5.86 points, or 0.4%, to 1363.72, its lowest close in nearly a month.
Consumer-discretionary and financial shares led declines across eight of the index's 10 sectors. The utilities and health care sectors, typically seen as defensive, rose. Index component Fossil plunged 38% after the watch company cut its 2012 financial targets and reported lower-than-expected first-quarter sales amid soft European demand.
The Nasdaq Composite lost 11.49 points, or 0.4%, to 2946.27, paring losses after touching its lowest intraday level since February.
Talks among Greece's leading political parties to form a new coalition government languished, meaning new elections may have to be held. That raised fears the country may not be able to implement agreed budget cuts and reforms it must take in order to secure bailout funds.
The worries over Greece overshadowed the National Federation of Independent Business's small-business optimism index, which rose in April, boosted by strength in the net earnings and new jobs subindexes.
The index's reading was the highest since December 2007. In corporate news, Dun & Bradstreet skidded 14% as the commercial-information company said core revenue will be flat to up 0.3%, down from its earlier estimate for 3% to 5% growth, and said it would cease operating a China-based business that is under investigation.
Wendy's fell 4.1% after the fast-food restaurant operator reported first-quarter results that missed expectations. McDonald's dropped 2.1% after saying sales growth at restaurants open at least 13 months slowed more than expected in April.
EUROPEAN STOCK MARKETS
European stocks tumbled Tuesday, as political deadlock in Greece fueled fears of further economic turmoil in the euro zone, pushing the Greek equities index to its lowest finish in nearly two decades.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index sank 1.7% to 250.58. It wasn't all gloom and doom: Posting the biggest gain in Europe, shares of Royal KPN rallied 17% to EUR7.58, after Mexican telecommunications firm America Movil said late Monday it plans to increase its stake in the Dutch carrier to as much as 28%.
America Movil offered EUR8 a share. But the broader European markets were sent plunging as a political deadlock in Greece following Sunday's elections spurred concerns about further turmoil to come for the debt-laden country.
In Athens, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said Monday it was impossible to form a coalition government, opening a door for the second-biggest party, Coalition of the Radical Left, which has vowed to renegotiate the country's bailout conditions.
Greece's ASE Composite Index closed at its lowest level since late November 1992, dropping 3.6% to 620.54, with National Bank of Greece SA down 8.4%.
Banks also traded lower in France, where BNP Paribas SA gave up 3.8%, Societe Generale SA lost 4.8% and Credit Agricole SA shed 2.6%.
The CAC-40 index lost 2.8% to 3,124.80. Heavyweight oil group Total SA also weighed on the Paris benchmark, off 2.9%, as it tracked oil prices lower.
Electricite de France SA fell 3.3% after Goldman Sachs cut its rating to neutral, down from buy previously. Meanwhile, the German DAX 30 index lost 1.9% to 6,444.74, with Commerzbank AG off 3.4% and Deutsche Bank AG down 2.5%.
Overshadowed by developments elsewhere, economic data showed German industrial production rose a seasonally adjusted 2.8% in March, beating economists' forecast of a 1% increase in a Dow Jones Newswires survey. Early trade on the German bourse had been halted due to technical problems.
Spain's IBEX 35 index gave up 0.8% to 7,006.90. Shares of Bankia SA sank 4.8%. Chairman Rodrigo Rato stepped down late Monday, following news the Spanish government is devising a rescue plan for the bank.
In the U.K., energy firms traded lower, with BG Group PLC dropping 3.5% and Royal Dutch Shell PLC dropping 2.7%. Tullow Oil PLC bucked the trend, up 3.3%, after the company discovered more oil in its Kenyan Ngamia well.
The FTSE 100 index fell 1.8% to 5,554.55, further pressured by weakness in mining shares as metals prices dropped across the board. Fresnillo PLC gave up 7.4%, Vedanta Resources PLC shed 5.6% and Rio Tinto PLC lost 3.3%. Heavyweight bank HSBC Holdings PLC lost 1.2%. The company said underlying profit for the first quarter was boosted by its investment-banking division and emerging-market operations.
ASIA-PACIFIC STOCK MARKETS
Japan led most Asian markets higher Tuesday, rebounding after heavy losses Monday, while Hong Kong and China were nudged lower by falling property and bank stocks.
Japan's Nikkei climbed 0.7% to 9181.65 points, with upbeat earnings lifting shares including Mitsubishi Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries. Marubeni Corp climbed 3.8% after a Nikkei report said the trading firm company is in the final stages to acquire U.S. grain company Gavilon.
South Korea's Kospi climbed 0.5% to 1967.01, Singapore's Straits Times Index advanced 0.2% to 2931.98, and India's Sensex closed down 2.2 at 16,546.18. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 0.3% to 20484.75.
Forecasts that yuan loan growth data, out Wednesday, will show a drop weighed on banking and property stocks. Bank of China was down 0.6%, while Soho China dropped 2.7%.
Sinopec fell 1.5% on indications China may also announce a cut in the price of gasoline and diesel. Property developer Sun Hung Kai also continued its slide, down 1.4%, bringing its slump to 20% since the start of a bribery probe by the city's anti-graft agency begun at the end of March.
HSBC bucked the trend, climbing 0.5% before it announced its first-quarter results after trading had closed. China's Shanghai SE Composite fell 0.1% to 2448.88, weighed down for a second day by declines in property companies. Poly Real Estate was down by 0.2%, while China Vanke fell 0.3%.
Base metals closed mostly lower on the London Metal Exchange Tuesday as concerns over the euro zone weighed broadly on risk-related assets.
At the close, LME three-month copper was 1.0% lower at $8,095 metric ton. Nickel fell the most, closing 1.1% lower on the day at $17,350/ton.
Oil futures slid for a fifth straight session sinking to lows not reached since Dec. 19 on fears that political turmoil in Greece may leave the country unable to meet the terms of its bailout and stir more instability for the euro zone.
Light, sweet crude for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled at $97.01, down 93 cents, or 0.9% for the day, after rebounding from a session low of $95.52.
Prices are down 8.6% over the last five trading days. June Brent futures settled down 43 cents, or 0.38%, to $112.73 on the Intercontinental Exchange.
Fresh worries about Europe's debt crisis spurred investor demand for cash and sparked a wave of selling in the gold market, pushing futures briefly below $1,600 and to their lowest settlement price since the first trading day of 2012.
The most actively traded gold contract, for June delivery, fell $34.60, or 2.1%, to settle at $1,604.50 a troy ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest ending price since Jan. 3. The contract for May delivery also settled 2.1% lower, at $1,604 an ounce.
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