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S&P 500 erases 2014 gain as China, Ukraine overshadow U.S. data

International concerns sent stock prices sharply lower Thursday.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 231.19 points to 16,108.89, a loss of 1.41 percent. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 62.91 points to 4,260.42, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost 21.86 points to 1,846.34.

Investors continued to worry about the weakness in China’s economy after a report showed an 18.2 percent drop in exports. And tensions in the Ukraine remained a concern.

The domestic economic news Thursday was mostly positive. The government reported retail sales rose 0.3 percent in February despite the harsh winter weather. And, initial claims for jobless benefits fell by 9,000 in the past week to 315,000, the lowest level in three months.

Gold rose for the fourth consecutive session, up $1.90 to $1,372.40 an ounce. Oil was up 21 cents to $98.20 a barrel.

United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX), Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) and American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP) tumbled more than 2.4 percent as all 30 members of the Dow Jones industrial average declined.

An S&P gauge of homebuilders lost 2.4 percent, falling for a seventh straight day.

Dollar General Corp. (NYSE: DG) slipped 2.8 percent as it forecast earnings below analyst estimates.

About 7.5 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, 12 percent above the three-month average.

The S&P 500 has declined 1.7 percent this week, sending the index to a 0.1 percent loss for the year, amid signs China’s economy is slowing and the crisis in Ukraine is escalating.

The United States and Germany stepped up pressure on Russia to back down from plans to annex Crimea from Ukraine after the region holds a referendum in three days, warning they’ll exact an economic toll if Russia doesn’t.

Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate panel in Washington that the United States and Europe will take “very serious” steps the day after the vote “if there is no sign” of a resolution to the crisis.

China’s industrial-output, investment and retail-sales growth cooled more than estimated in January and February, data showed Thursday. China announced an economic growth target of 7.5 percent last week, the weakest since 1990, and had its first onshore bond default after a solar-panel maker failed to make an interest payment.

Global concerns overshadowed better-than-forecast data in the United States.

“The U.S. data was quite good, but the market doesn’t want to acknowledge that today,” Lillian Seidman, an options strategist at Miller Tabak & Co. in New York, said in an interview. “There’s China concern and Ukraine is not helping. Overall, there are many factors to force out sellers right now.”

The government’s monthly jobs report last week showed U.S. employers added more workers than was estimated in February. The Federal Reserve is trying to determine how much recent economic data has been affected by weather.

The S&P 500 rallied to all-time highs this year as Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said the U.S. economy was strong enough to withstand measured reductions to the central bank’s monthly bond purchases.

An S&P index of homebuilders lost 2.4 percent, bringing its decline for the month to 8 percent, as Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE: TOL) dropped 2.7 percent to $36.77 and PulteGroup Inc. (NYSE: PHM) fell 2.5 percent to $19.18.

Discount retailer Dollar General (NYSE: DG) slipped 2.8 percent to $57.66 after forecasting first-quarter earnings of no more than 74 cents a share, below the 81 cents estimated by analysts.

Family Dollar Stores Inc. (NYSE: FDO) tumbled 2 percent to $60.43.

Offshore drillers decreased after ISI Group said in a client note that deepwater rig demand is weaker than the market has anticipated.

Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. (NYSE: DO) slid 4.3 percent to $44.39, the lowest level since 2005. Transocean Ltd. (NYSE: RIG) erased 3.1 percent to $39.54.

PVH Corp. (NYSE: PVH), which owns Calvin Klein, declined 5.7 percent to $115.04.

Williams-Sonoma Inc. (NYSE: WSM) jumped 9.8 percent to $64.74. The seller of cookware and home furnishings forecast same-store sales growth of 5 percent to 7 percent this year, compared with the 3.7 percent average analyst projection.

Revenue will reach $4.63 billion to $4.71 billion, Williams-Sonoma predicted.

Analysts had estimated a number at the low end of that range, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

— Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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