Stocks in the U.S accelerated their selloff in the final hour of trading Friday to close at session lows, logging their worst weekly decline for the year, as ongoing signs of weakness overseas and tepid economic news in the U.S. kept investors on edge.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 136.99 points, or 1.05 percent, to close at 12,849.59, whilst the S&P500 slumped 17.31 points, or 1.25 percent, to finish at 1,370.26 and the Nasdaq declined 44.22 points, or 1.45 percent, to end at 3,011.33.
On the economic front, U.S. consumer sentiment declined in early April, hurt by rising gasoline prices, according to a survey by University of Michigan and Reuters.
Geopolitical concerns also weighed, as Chinese growth slowed in the first quarter. But the tepid data led some to believe that Beijing could further ease monetary policy further to boost the economy.
In addition, Spanish banks had borrowed heavily from the European Central bank in March, underlining the continuing difficulties peripheral institutions are having in securing funding.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke at a conference in New York, defending the central bank's response to the financial crisis, but made no comments about the current state of the economy or the policies taken to spur growth.
Also on the economic front, consumer prices rose 0.3 percent in March, according to the Labor Department, which was in line with expectations.
The US dollar index gained by a 0.7% to 79.87. Gold fell back US$17.50 to US$1657.90/oz and the Aussie lost 0.6% to US$1.0374. Base metals were all sold down in London by around 2% thanks to the China impact. West Texas crude lost US80c to US$102.84/bbl, although Brent held up to be little changed at US$121.83/bbl.
US earnings season gets into full swing this week with reports from more of the big banks and a number of big Dow names, including General Electric.
On the economic front it's housing market week in the US this week, beginning tonight with the housing market sentiment index. Tuesday sees housing starts, Wednesday existing home sales, and Thursday the FHFA house price index. Thursday also brings the Conference Board leading economic index and Friday sees new home sales.
A G20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs meeting will begin in Washington on Friday, and before that we'll see the eurozone's trade balance and CPI, which will be important considerations for the ECB policy moves, along with the influential ZEW and IFO business surveys.
In Australia it's a quiet week economically, with vehicle sales tomorrow and Westpac's leading economic index on Wednesday. The highlight of the week will be the release tomorrow of the minutes of the RBA's April meeting.
It's a busy week on the Australian stock front. Today sees quarterly production reports from Alacer (AQG), Gindalbie (GBG) and Paladin (PDN), on Tuesday it's Perseus (PRU) and Rio Tinto (RIO), and Wednesday it's BHP Billiton (BHP). Thursday brings Fortescue (FMG), Santos (STO) and Woodside (WPL).
Bank of Queensland (BOQ) will report its interim result on Wednesday, Commonwealth Bank (CBA) will hold a strategy update and Telstra (TLS) an investor briefing on Thursday. Woolworths (WOW) will release its March quarter sales figures on Friday.