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Stocks end lower as Europe growth fears flare

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Stocks fell Monday amid Europe fears.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Stocks fell Monday amid Europe fears.Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters

Stocks fell Monday as a Dutch political impasse and disappointing euro zone data revived fears the region's debt crisis could keep much of Europe mired in recession through the year.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed the day down 102 points, having fallen as much as 184 points earlier in the day. A significant portion of the Dow's drop came due to a decline in shares of Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, and its Mexican subsidiary Walmex, which sank on a report of bribery allegations.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tendered his government's resignation on Monday in a crisis over budget cuts, creating a political vacuum in a country that strongly backed an EU fiscal treaty and lectured Greece on getting its finances in order.

The political turmoil in the Netherlands - traditionally one of the euro zone's most stable members - added to uncertainties after Socialist challenger Francois Hollande led President Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of French presidential elections.

Data showing a slump in the euro zone's private sector in April dampened hopes the region will emerge from recession soon.
U.S. stocks fell more than 1 percent on the euro zone anxiety.

"Clearly there is political uncertainty, but what always magnifies or amplifies political uncertainty is when there is growth uncertainty as well," said Paul Zemsky, head of asset allocation at ING in New York. "It's the worst of both worlds today."

Shares of Wal-Mart Stores fell sharply and were the Dow's biggest decliner after The New York Times reported company officials stymied an internal investigation of allegations of extensive bribery at its Mexican subsidiary, Walmart de Mexico, known as Walmex.
Walmex shares plunged on the Mexico City exchange.

Euro zone banks, which own the bulk of the region's debt, sank to levels last seen in late November, before the European Central Bank's first offering of ultra-cheap three-year loans.

"Euro zone economic momentum is weakening, and it is going to be more difficult for governments to reach fiscal targets in a weak growth environment," said Emmanuel Cau, a strategist at JPMorgan.

The euro fell against both the dollar and the yen.

"The failure of Dutch austerity talks suggests that early elections are likely and bring into question the AAA status of the country - one of the last few remaining in the euro zone," said Eric Viloria, senior currency strategist at Forex.com.

Dutch and peripheral euro zone bonds sold off, driving Spanish yields back above 6 percent and taking the spread of Dutch bonds over German benchmarks to the highest in three years.

"It's beginning to look like the perfect storm," said Stewart Richardson, chief investment officer at RMG. "If there is a Dutch election coming up soon, it just adds to the whole cocktail of worries for the market."

Voters in Greece also go to the polls on May 6, and the only two major parties that back the EU/IMF bailout plan are just ahead, according to the latest polling.

Gold prices eased, extending the 2 percent loss it has posted so far this month. Gold watchers are expected to turn their attention to the Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting from Tuesday, at which the potential for more monetary easing is expected to be addressed.

Reuters contributed to this report.