Canadian stocks extended losses to five sessions Tuesday after China's report on export and import activities raised concerns about the country's trade growth and domestic demand.
The S&P/TSX Composite Index tumbled 83.21 points to end the day at 11,935.29, off its lows for the day.
The Canadian dollar listed lower by 0.62 cents, below parity with its American neighbour, at 99.64 cents U.S.
China reported that its trade balance turned to surplus in March, but its imports grew less than expected at 5.3% from a year earlier, compared to a forecast of 9.3% by Dow Jones Newswires.
The weak import growth indicated that China is achieving a soft landing, while the double-digit growth rate in the past decade is less likely to return, said at least one expert.
In the mining sector, Lundin Mining Corp. shares declined 1.2% to $4.22. Teck Resources Ltd. shares gained 1% to $34.80.
Augusta Resource Corp. shares rallied 9.5% to $2.53 after the base metals producer said it has received a key environment permit for its Rosemont copper project in Arizona, giving it a total of six major permits required to start construction.
Among energy issues, Suncor Energy Inc. shares fell 2.1% to $29.68. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. shares dropped 1.2% to $31.29.
Shares of GASFRAC Energy Services Inc. slumped 21.4% to $5.34 after the company said Monday evening its revenue and profit before income tax for the first quarter are expected to be lower than the fourth-quarter level. The company's rating has been downgraded by TD and BMO.
Vero Energy Inc. increased 5.9% to $2.53 after the company raised its annual average production guidance of oil and liquids to 70% from 67%. The oil and gas producer said it also increased its credit facility with Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to $65 million from $45 million.
The financial sector struggled as most shares traded lower. Shares of Toronto-Dominion Bank dropped 0.6% to $82.76. Manulife Financial Corp. fell 2.9% to $12.36.
The TSX Venture Exchange fell 17.55 points to 1,431.10, while the Nasdaq Canada index tumbled 4.86 points to 393.92
All but three of the 14 Toronto subgroups ended the day in the red. Energy stocks staggered 1.9%, while industrials faltered 1.6%, and telecoms suffered 1.1%.
The three stalwarts were in the metals and mining sector, up 2.8%, gold, ahead 2.1%, and materials, gaining 1.5%.
In New York, what some observers called "the fear trade" picked up steam Tuesday, as investors grew increasingly worried about Europe's fiscal health.
The Dow Jones Industrials erased 213.66 points, or 1.7%, to end the day at 12,715.90, its worst one-day loss of 2012.
The S&P 500 deducted 23.61 points to 1,358.59, and the Nasdaq reversed 55.86 points from Monday's close at 2,991.22.
In all, 28 of the Dow's 30 components were in the red, with Bank of America leading the broad retreat. Oil and industrial stocks were also among the biggest decliners. GE, Caterpillar and Exxon fell more than 1%.
The so-called fear index, the VIX, rose nearly 10% Tuesday and is up early 33% over the past five days. It's still shy of 30 -- a reading that typically signals heightened investor fear.
Analysts are forecasting a 0.1% drop in first-quarter earnings for companies in the S&P 500 compared to a year earlier, according to FactSet. While that's not a major decline, it would mark the end of a nine-quarter winning streak. Stocks were on a tear in the first three months of this year, with the Dow and S&P 500 enjoying their best first quarter in over a decade.
Shares of electronics retailer Best Buy surged then dropped after the company announced that CEO Brian Dunn had resigned and the company would begin a search for a new CEO.
Sony shares dropped after the electronics maker announced it expects an annual loss of more than double its previous projection. The company said the revision came after recording additional tax expenses, primarily in the United States.
Shares of grocery retailer Supervalu were up 13%, after the company reported earnings that beat expectations and offered strong guidance.
Apple's shares hit another all-time high Tuesday.
Meanwhile, investors are also awaiting the start of earnings season. Dow component Alcoa is on tap to report after the closing bell, which unofficially starts the release of first-quarter financial results. Worries about the materials sector are looming amid growing fears about a slowdown in China.
Borrowing costs in Spain and Italy spiked Tuesday, which initially caused investors to resist the risks of stocks. And as the day progressed, investors grew increasingly jittery over the health of the global economy.
The U.S. indexes followed European stocks, which slumped more than 2%.
Yields on Spain's 10-year bonds hovered at just under 6%, the highest level in more than three months. Borrowing costs have been trending higher as the government struggles to push through budget cuts. In Italy, the yields were near 5.7%.
Economically speaking, wholesale inventories came in higher than expected for February with a 0.9% increase above the 0.5% rise forecast by economists. Inventories rose 0.4% in January
On Monday, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said in a speech in Georgia that banks need to increase their capital buffers in order to ensure stability in the financial system.
The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury progressed, driving yields down to 1.99% from Monday's 2.04%. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions.
Oil for May delivery ditched $1.18 to $101.28 U.S. a barrel.
Gold futures for April delivery gained $20.10 to $1,664.00 U.S. an ounce.