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Stocks slump and dollar slips on US growth worries

Wall Street stocks tumbled and the dollar slipped yesterday after government data signaled the US economic expansion was slowing, while gains in the euro prompted a pullback in European stock markets.

The main US stock indices were off more than one per cent midway through a session that began with a modest lift on news of a deal between Kraft Foods and Heinz Co to create North America's third-largest food company.

But the gains failed to hold, with stocks stung by data showing unexpectedly weak US 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 US 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 was down 186.67 points, or 1.04 per cent, at 17,824.47. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 17.17 points, or 0.82 per cent, at 2,074.33.

The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 82.10 points, or 1.64 per cent, at 4,912.63.

Biotech and semiconductor shares were among the hardest hit, while Kraft's shares were up more than $22 at $84.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index of top companies closed off nearly one per cent as the euro rose, in part because of data showing business in Germany was up.

Germany's Ifo index rose for the fifth successive month to its highest since July 2014, suggesting growth in Europe's largest economy rebounded again in the first quarter of 2015.

The data, based on a survey of 7,000 firms, was stronger than forecast by economists in a Reuters poll and helped push the euro back toward $1.10.

Euro strength hit the exporter-heavy German DAX index , however, prompting some profit-taking, analysts said.

The single currency was last at $1.0963, up 0.4 per cent on the day and rising toward Tuesday's peak of $1.1029.

The dollar index, which measures the US currency against a basket of six major currencies, slipped 0.3 per cent to 96.905.

The yen was up 0.2 per cent at 119.44 to the dollar .

The benchmark 10-year US Treasury note was down 10/32 in price to yield 1.9111 per cent.

The weaker dollar helped lift Brent crude oil 2.8 per cent to $56.65 a barrel, having fallen earlier on mounting evidence that China's strategic oil reserves may be nearly full and with US reserves also ballooning. US crude added three per cent to $48.99.

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