US equity markets tanked Wednesday as a poor German government debt auction fueled fears over Europe's fiscal crisis and weak growth in the eurozone, a major US trading partner.
Markets spent the day stuck in negative territory after Germany was able to sell only part of an issue of German 10-year bonds, considered the gold standard of eurozone debt.
"The European debt crisis escalated after a failed German government-bond auction indicated that investors are now demanding higher risk compensation even at the heart of the currency bloc's debt market," said Robert Brusca, chief economist at FAO Economics.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 236.17 points (2.05 percent) to finish at 11,257.55.
The broader S&P 500-stock index dropped 26.25 points (2.21 percent) to 1,161.79, while the tech-rich Nasdaq slid 61.20 points (2.43 percent) to 2,460.08.
US stocks were under solid pressure "as the ongoing eurozone debt crisis is conspiring with resurfacing global economic concerns, courtesy of disappointing manufacturing data out of China and Europe," Charles Schwab analysts said.
A batch of US economic data was mixed ahead of the Thanksgiving Day holiday Thursday, when US markets are closed.
US consumers spent less than expected in October despite seeing a rise in earnings, government data showed, as businesses also trimmed big-ticket durable goods orders this month amid the threat of a global slowdown.
New claims for US unemployment insurance rose only slightly last week from seven-month lows, suggesting stabilization in the weak job market where the unemployment rate is at 9.0 percent.
Financial stocks were under pressure after the Federal Reserve's post-market announcement Tuesday that it will stress-test 31 major US banks next year.
Bank of America dived 4.3 percent, Citigroup fell 3.9 percent and JPMorgan Chase shed 3.5 percent.
KKR fell 2.5 percent to $11.50. The investment firm and three partners said they were buying most of privately held Samson Investment Company, a leading US energy producer, for $7.2 billion.
Groupon shares plunged 15.5 percent to $16.96, falling below their initial $20 public offering price for the first time since the online daily deals site made its debut on the Nasdaq three weeks ago.
Among the rare gainers was farm machinery maker Deere, up 3.9 percent after earnings beat market expectations.
The bond market firmed sharply as investors sought their perceived safety. The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond fell to 1.88 percent from 1.94 percent late Tuesday, while that on the 30-year Treasury declined to 2.82 percent from 2.91 percent.
Bond yields and prices move in opposite directions.