Gold and silver mining company stocks rose Wednesday, defying a global downdraft in equities and underscoring the traditional role precious metals have as a safe haven for investors.

U.S. stocks plunged over worries that Italy's debt has become unsustainable, amidst confusion over the political circus engulfing Rome.

In Wednesday trading, the yield on 10-year Italian bonds jumped way above the seven percent level to as high as 7.46 percent - a record high during the euro era and the 'danger point' at which debt is considered unsustainable, leading to either a financial collapse or a bailout.

Portugal, Ireland and Greece all were forced to accept a rescue package once their national bonds reached that emergency yield.

As of 10:48 a.m. (New York time), the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down almost 272 points, or 2.23 percent, the S&P 500 Index has dropped 31.5 points, or 2.47 percent, and the Nasdaq has tumbled nearly 68 points, or 2.46 percent.

The major European bourses are down anywhere from 2.0 percent to 2.6 percent.

The dollar, which lately has competed against gold as a safe haven, jumped 1.5 percent against a basket of currencies.

By midday (New York time) gold on the Comex barely moved from its Tuesday closing price of $1,799.10.

Numerous gold mining stocks posted strong gains. Goldcorp Inc., Yamana Gold Inc., Eldorado Gold Corp., Randgold Resources Ltd. and New Gold Inc. were all up more than one percent. Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd. gained 2.6 percent.

Silver companies also rose, though fewer of such companies were rising. Tahoe Resources Inc. gained 2.1 percent, Endeavour Silver Corp. rose 1.3 percent Fortuna Silver Mines added 1.3 percent.