US stocks dived on Monday as investors grew restless ahead of the releases of a new round of quarterly earnings reports by major banks later this week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 179.11 points, or 1.09 percent, to 16,257.94. The S&P 500 slumped 23.17 points, or 1.26 percent, to 1,819.20. The Nasdaq Composite Index plummeted 61.36 points, or 1.47 percent, to 4,113.30.
The Dow marked the worst day in three months, while both the S& P 500 and the Nasdaq dropped the most in over two months.
The market hovered around the flatline before sinking deeply in the afternoon trading session, as investors chose to take their money off the table following a banner year on Wall Street in 2013, with the benchmark S&P 500 soaring roughly 30 percent.
Major stock indices retreated in the first seven trading days of the New Year, which was historically considered as having a high correlation with how the market fares in the whole year, pointing to a decelerating upward momentum in 2014.
Investors were trying to gauge how the biggest U.S. banks have performed from their earnings in the fourth quarter of 2013, which would set the tone of the new earnings season that unofficially kicked off last week.
All the six major U.S. banks will release earnings results this week. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. will report earnings Tuesday, followed by Bank of America Wednesday, and Goldman Sachs and Citigroup Thursday, Morgan Stanley Friday.
According to latest data from Thomson Reuters, fourth quarter earnings from the S&P 500 companies are expected to grow 7.3 percent from a year ago, while revenue is expected to grow only 0. 4 percent year-on-year.
Some traders showed little surprise at the selloff, believing that a pullback is healthy for the market and 2014 would be a good year for the stocks.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs said in a research report last Friday that they downgraded the U.S. equity market to "underweight " relative to other equity markets over three months following strong performance. It forecast the S&P 500 to grind higher to 1, 900 points in the following 12 months, representing a less than 5 percent gain from its current level.
The giant bank also added that equities are still the best positioned asset category globally, among which European and Japanese stocks are expected to outperform, citing improving global economy and healthy earnings growth as reasons.
On the economic front, the U.S. federal government ran a 53- billion-dollar surplus in December in 2013, reversing a deficit of 1.19 billion dollars for the same period a year earlier, the Treasury Department said on Monday.
The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered as a fear gauge of the market, soared 9.39 percent to finish at 13.28.
In other markets, oil prices fell Monday on the possibility of increasing crude exports from Iran as the country agreed to curtail its nuclear program.
Light, sweet crude for February delivery moved down 92 cents to settle at 91.8 U.S. dollars a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while Brent crude for February delivery lost 50 cents to close at 106.75 dollars a barrel.
Gold futures on the COMEX division of the New York Mercantile Exchange rose for the third consecutive session on Monday, with the most active gold contract for February delivery up 4.2 dollars to settle at 1,251.1 dollars per ounce.
The U.S. dollar continued slipping against most major currencies on Monday, amid market speculations that the weak U.S. employment data released last week may slow down the Federal Reserve's stimulus tapering pace.
In late New York trading, the euro advanced to 1.3672 dollars from 1.3660 dollars of the previous session, and the dollar bought 102.91 yen, lower than 104.06 yen of the previous session.