U.S. stocks sell off, dollar slips on growth worries

Wed Mar 25, 2015 4:23pm EDT
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By Michael Connor

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street stocks sold off sharply, with semiconductor and biotech shares sliding more than 4 percent, and the dollar slipped on Wednesday after government data signaled the U.S. economic expansion was slowing.

Treasuries also dropped in price after a disappointing sale of new government debt, while gains in the euro prompted a pullback in European stock markets.

The Nasdaq was the biggest loser on Wall Street, falling more 2 percent, after a modest rise in equities on news of a deal between Kraft Foods KRFT.O and Heinz Co to create North America's third-largest food company gave way to a wave of selling .

Stocks were stung by data showing unexpectedly weak U.S. durable goods orders. Losses accelerated after the benchmark S&P 500 fell below a technical support level near 2,085.

The Commerce Department data showed business investment spending plans fell for a sixth straight month in February, news that could lead economists to lower their first-quarter U.S. growth estimates and cause the Federal Reserve to delay interest rate hikes.

"The dollar strength can sap earnings growth, but if you continue to see soft economic data here, a confirmation of decelerating growth, that will certainly affect the market," said Chad Morganlander, portfolio manager at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co in Florham Park, New Jersey.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI ended off 292.6 points, or 1.62 percent, to 17,718.54, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 30.45 points, or 1.46 percent, to 2,061.05, and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 118.21 points, or 2.37 percent, to 4,876.52.

The semiconductor index slumped 4.6 percent while the biotech index slid 4.1 percent.   Continued...

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid