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Stocks end sharply lower as oil prices tumble

After rising more than 75 points on Tuesday, the Dow dropped 130 points on Wednesday

May 11, 2011

House Majority Leader Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) (R) talks with a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, prior to ringing the opening bell, May 10, 2011.

Brendan McDermid / Reuters

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By Abby Schultz, CNBC.com

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Stocks tumbled 1 percent after three days of gains as a hike in oil and gas inventories triggered a selloff in commodities amid worries of a slowdown in global growth.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 130.33 points, or 1.02 percent, to close at 12,630.03, after rising more than 75 points on Tuesday.

Walt Disney led the blue-chip average lower following disappointing earnings and revenue results delivered after the market closed on Tuesday. Disney's amusement parks were hurt by the disasters in Japan, and the poor performance of "Mars Needs Moms."

The Dow got some support from Intel, which jumped after the tech firm said Wednesday it would raise its cash dividend by 16 percent to 21 cents a share.

The S&P 500 fell 15.08 points, or 1.1 percent, to close at 1,342.08, while the Nasdaq fell 26.83 points, or 0.9 percent, to close at 2,845.06. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, gained more than 6 percent to close at nearly 17.

All key S&P 500 sectors declined, led by energy and materials.

The energy sector sank about 3 percent, with more than 90 percent of all energy stocks lower as oil prices added to losses after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that inventories for crude stocks and gasoline rose more than expected amid sliding demand.

Oil prices were already weaker after news that China's inflation rate slowed in April as industrial output fell and renewed concerns of a global economic slowdown.

The rapid fall in prices of oil and gasoline prompted the New York Mercantile Exchange to halt trading in crude oil, gasoline and heating oil futures shortly after noon. Trading resumed a few minutes later at higher daily price limits.

U.S. light, sweet crude plunged $5.67 or 5.46 percent to settle at $98.21. In London, Brent crude sank $5.06 or 4.3 percent a barrel to settle at $112.57.

"Energy and commodities have been a real leadership group for a long time," said Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at BNY ConvergEx Group. "The question has always been demand destruction," Colas said. "The inventory numbers got people’s attention."

Commodities have benefited from two things, Colas continued: a weak U.S. dollar and a growing U.S. economy.

"Now we are facing the flip side," he said. The economy's strength is being slowed by higher oil prices, while debt troubles in periphery euro zone countries are causing the dollar to strengthen against the euro. "That’s the second nail in the coffin, which is why you get this exaggerated move," Colas said.

On Wednesday, the dollar gained against a basket of currencies as the euro fell, reflecting heightened concerns about the effects of Greece's debt troubles.

A strengthening dollar could lead analysts to revise their forecasts for second quarter earnings, as multinationals will no longer have a weak dollar to fuel their overseas sales, Colas added.