Stocks on Wall Street joined a global selloff as weak eurozone economic data was compounded by political uncertainty in France and the Netherlands.
European markets were also sharply lower as the eurozone's private sector contracted the most in five months in April.
In France, President Sarkozy trails socialist challenger François Hollande after the first round of the presidential election, with the Front National holding a 20% voting share that could decide the final result.
All are promoting populist economic policies that oppose government debt reduction programmes. The Dutch coalition government collapsed on similar opposition to austerity policies.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 102.09 points, or 0.8%, to 12,927.17 at the close (8am NZ time).
The S&P 500 index shed 0.8%, to 1366.94 as all 10 of the index's sectors declined. The Nasdaq Composite fell 1.0%, to 2970.45.
Other markets: Europe, Asia down; commodities fall
The Stoxx Europe 600 index sank 2.3% to 251.75, its lowest close since mid-January.
French stocks slid into the red for the year as the CAC 40 index dropped 2.8% to 3098.37. The Amsterdam AEX index plunged 2.6% to 301.27.
Germany's DAX dropped 3.4% 3.4% to 6523.00, the UK’s FTSE 100 index ended 1.85% lower at 5665.57 and Spain's IBEX 35 fell 2.8%.
Asian markets also fell. China's Shanghai Composite was down 0.8% to 2388.59 after manufacturing activity continued to contract in April, although at a slower rate than in March.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index dropped 1.8% to 20624.39 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3% to 4352.40.
Japan's Nikkei Stock Average lost 0.2% to 9542.17 in its third-straight drop, Korea's Kospi slipped 0.1% to 1972.63 and Taiwan's Taiex shed 0.3% to 7481.09.
Commodities: Oil, gold down
Crude futures slumped on investor sentiment that falling oil demand is likely to continue.
Light, sweet crude for June delivery settled 77USc, or 0.7%, lower at $US103.11 a barrel in New York, after falling as low as $US101.82 earlier in the session.
Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange traded 20USc lower at $US118.65 a barrel.
A rise in the US dollar dented demand for gold and pushing the precious metal to its lowest price in more than two weeks.
The most actively traded contract, for June delivery, fell $US10.20, or 0.6%, to settle at $US1632.60 an ounce in New York, the lowest settlement price since April 5.
Currencies: Euro crumbles
The euro crumbled on political developments in Europe that are unfavourable to markets. The euro was at $US 1.3154 compared with $US1.3218 late on Friday.
The dollar was at ¥81.18 compared with ¥81.55, while the euro was at ¥106.78 compared with ¥107.83.
The pound bought $US1.6129 from $US1.6123, while the dollar fetched 0.9138 Swiss franc from 0.9091 franc.
This article is tagged with the following keywords. Find out more about MyNBR Tags
- Fellet unmoved by media company 'for-sale' signs as Sky TV mulls capital options
- Budget 2016: The debt picture softens
- Former Mighty River engineer sentenced to jail for fraud
- Economics of Tiwai Point smelter still going backwards, Woodward's Kidd says
- Google's Paris office raided in multi-billion tax evasion swoop
Most listened to
- AMA: Orion boss Ian McCrae delivers 10 quickfire answers to 10 quickfire questions from readers
- Government debt will top out at about 26% of GDP, well below most other countries, says Professor Niall Ferguson
- Taxpayers' Union director Jordan Williams is not sold on the government's 'Soviet-style' tourism accommodation plan
- Europe expansion could come quicker than planned, says Invert Robotics CEO James Robertson
- In his Editor’s Insight, Nevil Gibson argues the government’s role in tourism is more critical to economic growth than housing