(Adds details of biotech selloff; updates to U.S. afternoon
* Crimea keeps investors wary as Obama begins talks
* Gold drops on concerns about U.S. rate hike
* Biotech, tech lead U.S. equities lower
* Slowing growth in Germany, China weighs on some investors
By Barani Krishnan
NEW YORK, March 24 Global equity markets fell on
Monday, rattled by the ongoing Ukraine crisis and weak data from
China, while gold fell on concerns about higher U.S. interest
rates and a stronger dollar.
U.S. stocks slumped, hit by a selloff in biotechnology and
technology shares that put the Nasdaq on course for its biggest
daily percentage decline since early February.
The dollar firmed and the euro slipped after signs of
slowing growth in Germany, the euro zone's largest economy.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 47.45 points,
or 0.29 percent, at 16,255.32. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index
was down 11.77 points, or 0.63 percent, at 1,854.75. The
Nasdaq Composite Index was down 64.45 points, or 1.51
percent, at 4,212.34.
The Nasdaq biotechnology index, which jumped 66
percent last year, fell 3.5 percent for its fourth straight
daily decline, a period over which the group has lost 9 percent.
Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc dropped 6.1 percent to
"Biotech stocks have gone parabolic over the past few
months, so this is a necessary correction to that," said Mark
D'Cruz, senior investment analyst at Key Private Bank in
Cleveland, Ohio. "A lot of that interest came from outside
traditional biotech investors, who are now being scared off ...
Biotechs really have to prove themselves this year, prove that
their drugs can deliver."
Tension between Ukraine and Russia continued to simmer after
Ukraine announced the evacuation of its troops from Crimea,
essentially yielding the region to Russian forces. Diplomats
have raised concerns about a NATO-reported buildup of Russian
troops at Ukraine's border, and there are fears Russia also has
designs on Moldova, another former Soviet republic.
Investors are concerned about the potential economic
fallout, and shares of European companies with big exposure to
Russia came under renewed pressure. U.S. President Barack Obama
on Monday began talks with European allies on a response to the
crisis as the potential for more sanctions looms.
"The issue remains contained for the time being, but Obama
will try and garner support for more sanctions, which will
ultimately shape our view of how things can end up looking,"
said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities
in New York. "This remains at the forefront of what we're paying
A decline in China's manufacturing growth in the first
quarter added to worries about the global economy, although it
also raised hopes for new stimulative measures from the world's
second-largest economy. Markets in China shrugged off the data,
and the Hang Seng Index gained 1.9 percent.
The flash Markit/HSBC China Purchasing Manager index fell to
an eight-month low of 48.1 in March. The index has been below
50, the dividing line between expansion and contraction, since
January. Weakness in China is a worry for investors because of
its demand for raw materials and technology.
Gold hit a one-month low on expectations of higher U.S.
interest rates by 2015. Spot gold dipped to $1,310.46 an
ounce, following a sharp fall triggered by comments last week
from Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen that suggested interest
rates could rise sooner than many in markets had expected.
"With higher yields you get a higher opportunity cost of
holding gold, and with the stronger U.S. dollar there is less of
a fear of currency debasement," Natixis analyst Bernard Dahdah
"We could see gold dropping below $1,300 in the next month
if we get the necessary U.S. data, a strengthening dollar and
The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was up
4/32, with the yield at 2.7353 percent.
German Bund futures extended losses after the flash
composite purchasing managers' index for France jumped to 51.6
in March from 47.9 last month.
The euro weakened after data showing growth in Germany
slowed in March, raising the potential for more monetary easing
from the European Central Bank. Data from the euro zone as a
whole dipped compared with February.
"Germany is going to determine ECB policy," said Boris
Schlossberg, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at
BK Asset Management in New York.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index, which rose 1.8 percent
last week, ended down 1 percent.
The dollar index, which measures the greenback
against a basket of currencies, was at 80.05 after reaching a
session peak of 80.29, not far from Thursday's three-week high
The euro last stood at $1.3786, down slightly after
hitting a high of $1.3875 earlier. The dollar rose a notch
against the yen, to 102.24 yen.
(Additional reporting by Nigel Stephenson in London and Blaise
Robinson in Paris; Editing by Leslie Adler and Dan Grebler)