Data from the U.S., Western Europe and China, the world's second-biggest economy, painted a uniformly grim picture for investors in risky assets like copper, crude oil or equities.
-- U.S. pending home sales fell 5.5 percent in April compared to the prior month, the National Association of Realtors said, marking the weakest result in a year and raising more uncertainty surrounding the housing recovery. The Dallas Fed manufacturing index extended the most recent slate of softer-than-expected economic reports, David A. Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist of Gluskin Sheff + Associates Inc., wrote in a note. We haven't seen a number this weak since last September.
-- China said monetary authorities will not launch any major government stimulus in the near future.
-- In Europe, economic stagnation and continuing debt crisis in the single currency bloc drove the region's business sentiment to 90.6 in May from April's revised 92.9, the European Commission said. That was the second big fall in a row and it left the index at its lowest level since the back end of the global recession in October 2009.
-- Meanwhile, Germany is opposing a European Commission proposal to create and fund a banking union for bailing out insolvent banks so the Greek crisis will not engulf Spain and other vulnerable euro zone members on the continent's southern periphery.
The situation in Europe is going from bad to worse and it is not just about Greece, as we see 10-year yields in Spain decisively pierce the 6.5 percent level to trade at its highest since last November, and Italy too touched the 6 percent threshold today as it endures its fourth straight sell-off, Rosenberg wrote Wednesday in a note.
Spain's economy is imploding much like Greece with retail sales plunging 9.8 percent year-over-year to mark the 22nd decline in a row and the sharpest annual slide on record.
Crude oil, which was recently trading around $87, has now fallen more than 20 percent from its March 1 level of $109.93. The current price of crude oil in New York trading is at a level not seen since October of last year.
Copper, which was recently trading around $3.38, has now fallen more than 14 percent from its March 1 high of $3.80. The current price of copper in New York trading is at a level not seen since the end of last year.
With the exception of sugar, all major agricultural commodities were down. Since the end of May 2011, wheat has fallen 31 percent, and since the end of August 2011 the price of corn has fallen 29 percent.
The overall picture of dangerously slowing economic growth -- if not outright contraction -- hammered stocks around the world.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng stock index closed down 1.9 percent, while Germany's DAX was recently falling 1.8 percent and France's CAC 40 was plunging 2.2 percent.
In the U.S., all major equity indexes were down more than 1 percent and the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury fell to a record-low 1.64 percent.