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Stocks tumbled on Thursday, with the Dow dropping 230 points, on growing concerns that events surrounding Ukraine are escalating and that China's slowing growth will rub off on the global economy and bite into corporate profits.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which rose in the morning, reversed direction and closed unofficially down 2309 points, or 1.4 percent, at 16,109.87. The S&P 500 shed 21 points, or 1.17 percent, to end at 1,846.35 and the Nasdaq declined 62 points, or 1.46 percent, to 4,260.42.
Secretary of State John Kerry said a "serious series of steps" would be imposed by the U.S. and Europe on Monday if the referendum in Crimea takes place on Sunday as planned. Russia meanwhile launched new military exercises near its border and reports circulated of shots being fired at aircraft.
Meanwhile, Reuters cited banking and industry sources in reporting increasing concerns about the financial health of bloated industries in China that have caused many banks to reduce lending in these sectors up to 20 percent.
Market strategists have recently cited the slowdown in China's economy in January and February as cause for concern, and unease over the ongoing standoff between Russia and Ukraine over the Crimea peninsula.
Markets appeared to ignore positive economic data. First, the Commerce Department reported retail sales gained 0.3 percent in February after a 0.6 percent decline the prior month, with the latter figure bigger than initially estimated. Then, the Labor Department said applications for jobless benefits unexpectedly declined last week, by 9,000 to 315,000.