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Stocks slide after discouraging news from Asia

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NEW YORK (KNOE 8 News) - Discouraging economic news from China and Japan stoked investors' worries about a global slowdown, sending U.S. stocks lower Monday. The market pared its loss by the early afternoon, aided by a jump in Alexion Pharmaceuticals. 

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell two points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,875 at 1:15 p.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 54 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,398. The Nasdaq composite lost five points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,330.

CHINA WORRIES: China's exports slumped 18 percent in February, reinforcing fears about the outlook for the world's second-largest economy after the United States. China's official 2014 economic growth target of 7.5 percent, announced last week by Premier Li Keqiang, assumes trade also will grow by 7.5 percent. But customs data show combined imports and exports so far this year have shrunk by 4.8 percent.

THE QUOTE: "The driver this morning has been the economic numbers coming out of China. Their trade numbers were quite disappointing and that's driving the market lower," said David Chalupnik, head of equities for Nuveen Asset Management.

JAPAN TOO: Meanwhile, Japan, the world's third-largest economy, reported a record current account deficit for January and lowered its economic growth estimate for the October-December quarter to 0.7 percent from 1 percent.

IN THE RED: The downbeat economic report from China was hurting several industry sectors heavily reliant on Chinese economic growth, in particular: materials, energy and industrials, which led the decline in nine of the 10 sectors of the S&P 500 index. Mining company Cliffs Natural Resources was the biggest decliner among S&P 500 companies, shedding 78 cents, or 4.2 percent to $17.87.

TOP BANANA: Chiquita agreed to combine with Dublin-based Fyffes to become the world's top banana company. The stock-for-stock transaction announced Monday creates a global banana and fresh produce company with $4.6 billion in annual revenues. Chiquita rose $1.22, or 11 percent, to $12.06.

SEPARATE WAYS: Chemical company FMC plans to separate into two publicly traded companies. The "New FMC" will include the agricultural and health and nutrition businesses, while "FMC Minerals" will include the current minerals segment that houses the alkali chemicals and lithium businesses. FMC rose $4.49, or 5.8 percent, to $82.36.

FROZEN ARCHES: McDonald's slipped 9 cents to $95.41. The company said that a key sales metric dropped 1.4 percent in the U.S. last month, which McDonald's attributed to severe winter weather. The world's largest hamburger chain was also hindered by difficult winter weather conditions in January.

BIG RISER: Alexion Pharmaceuticals paced the gainers in the S&P 500 index, climbing $11.17, or 6.7 percent, to $179.40. The company raised its 2014 earnings forecast, saying the national health agency of France will reimburse it for past sales of its drug Soliris.

EUROPE: The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was barely changed. Germany's DAX fell 0.3 percent. The CAC-40 in France edged up 0.5 percent.

ASIAN MARKETS: Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 closed down 1 percent and China's Shanghai Composite plunged 2.9 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 1.8 percent. A notable mover was Malaysia Airlines, which fell sharply following the disappearance of one its jets en route to Beijing.

BOND WATCH: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 2.78 percent from 2.79 percent as investors moved money into bonds. The yield, which affects rates on mortgages and other consumer loans, has been rising steadily this month from a low of 2.60 percent on March 3.

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