Canada's main stock index took a heavy tumble soon after the opening bell on Monday, with commodity prices falling as political tension in France and the Netherlands raised concerns over euro-zone's commitment to tackle its ongoing debt crisis.
The S&P/TSX Composite Index opened off 223.68 points, or 1.8%, to 11,923.60
The Canadian dollar slid 0.60 cents, to 100.27 cents U.S.
Stocks to watch this morning, include Royal Bank of Canada, which expects to double the number of wealth management employees in its Dubai office in the near future, and is open to opportunities for acquisitions
Drugstore chain Jean Coutu Group Inc. said on Friday it sold 56 million shares of the 234.4 million it held in Rite Aid Corp, or nearly a quarter of its stake at an average price of $1.51 per share.
On the economic slate, Statistics Canada said that wholesale sales climbed more than expected in February, rising 1.6% to $48.5 billion, mostly on the strength of motor-vehicle and machinery and equipment sales.
The TSX Venture Exchange tumbled 30.23 points to 1,367.72, while the Nasdaq Canada index dropped 11.82 points to 399.73
All 14 Toronto subgroups were down at the outset. Metals and mining stocks collapsed 4.9%, global base metals 3.6%, and materials 3.4%
In New York, stocks fell Monday on concerns over European political uncertainty and another sign of a slowdown in the Chinese economy.
The Dow Jones Industrials erased 156.28 points, or 1.2%, at the start of business Monday to 12,893.
The S&P 500 fell 18.99 points to 1,359.64, and the Nasdaq shed 41.16 points to 2,959.29
Investors will be squarely focused on the political and economic events in Europe, with the possibility of shakeups looming in both the French and Dutch governments.
Still, news that French President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the architects of the European agreement to avert sovereign debt default, finished in second place in the initial round of French presidential elections Sunday made investors worried that France would be less likely to work to keep the euro-zone together.
Sarkozy will now face Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in a May 6 run-off vote, and Hollande has been openly hostile to European Union austerity measures.
Meanwhile, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to resign, prompting new elections in the Netherlands, after one of his coalition partners in the government withdrew -- due to negotiations over the 2013 budget. This could place the Netherlands' AAA credit rating at risk, according to some experts.
The latest reading on eurozone manufacturing also fell unexpectedly Monday to the lowest level since November, a sign that the 17-nation block has fallen further into recession.
Worries that the problems in Europe are still not over were further driven home by Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Lagarde warned at meetings of the IMF and World Bank over the weekend that the "dark clouds on the horizon" for the global economy threatened the "light recovery blowing in a spring wind."
Fueling investor concerns about the global economy was a preliminary reading on Chinese manufacturing released early Monday, showing a contraction for the second straight month.
On the domestic front, Monday will begin one of the biggest weeks for corporate earnings, as a number of telecoms, tech firms and energy companies will weigh in during the week with first-quarter numbers.
In the U.S., number-one retailer Wal-Mart was hit by allegations in the New York Times over the weekend that top executives in its Mexican division attempted to conceal a widespread bribery scheme from the company's headquarters. Shares fell in early trading. The company says it is investigating.
In other corporate news, two deals were announced early Monday. Dow component Pfizer reached an agreement to sell its baby formula business to Nestlé for $11.85 billion U.S. in cash. And AstraZeneca announced it is buying Ardea Biosciences, a California-based biotechnology company, for $32 U.S. a share or $1.3 billion U.S. -- a 54% premium from Friday's closing price.
Corporate earnings season continues. Xerox and ConocoPhillips released first-quarter data ahead of the opening bell.
Xerox reported adjusted earnings of 23 cents a share, unchanged from a year earlier and matching forecasts. Its shares spiked following the report.
But while ConocoPhillips posted improved earnings of $2.02 U.S. a share, it fell short of forecasts of a $2.08 U.S. a share. Its shares lost 2%.
After the closing bell, Netflix will release first-quarter data. Analysts expect the company to post a loss of 27 cents U.S. per share.
On the economic scene, annual reports on the financial health of U.S. Social Security and Medicare are due out Monday afternoon.
The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury galloped ahead, driving the yield down to 1.92% from Friday's 1.97%. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions.
Oil for May delivery settled $1.92 to $101.96 U.S. a barrel.
Gold futures for June delivery lost $15.90 to $1,626.90 an ounce.