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U.S. stocks battered by global-growth concerns

U.S. stocks declined sharply on Wednesday, with the losses accelerating as the World Bank cut its outlook for global growth for 2016 and 2017, further illustrating worries about the global economy.

The World Bank now projects the global economy will grow 2.9 percent this year, down from a 3.3 percent forecast made in June.

"There was unsettling news on a couple of fronts, one of which, China, isn't a new worry," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott. "The lingering concern was illustrated by the World Bank publicly stating there is increasing risk to emerging markets."

"The potential repercussions of North Korea doing something untoward with an explosive device of some kind also helped contribute to concerns," Luschini added.

"We look at China's economy, and the inputs haven't been good," said Art Hogan, director of research and chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities. "People are talking about fourth-quarter GDP estimates [in the U.S.] coming down -- and Saudi Arabia, Iran and North Korea, all of that doesn't help."

China's central bank set values for the yuan at surprisingly weak levels, furthering concerns about the world's second-biggest economy, while North Korea said it successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb, news that comes amid escalating tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The continuing softness in China weighed on commodities, with Brent crude oil falling to its lowest price since 2004, while West Texas Intermediate futures dropped $2.00, or 5.6 percent, to $33.97 a barrel.

Stocks retained and added to stiff losses in the aftermath of minutes from the Federal Reserve's December meeting, at which monetary officials voted unanimously for their first interest-rate hike since 2006. That said, the decision was termed a "close call" given continuing concerns about low inflation.

After a more than 320-point slide, the Dow Jones industrials (DJI) lost 252 points, or 1.5 percent, to 16,907. Chevron (CVX) led blue-chip stock losses that hit all but one of the Dow's 30 components. Energy bled the most among the 10 major sectors on the S&P 500 (SPX), all of which were in the red, as the broad index dropped 26 points, or 1.3 percent, to 1,990. The Nasdaq Composite (COMP) shed 56 points, or 1.1 percent, to 4,836.

Apple (AAPL) shares tumbled for a second day after Japan's Nikkei Asian Review reported the iPhone maker would cut production of its latest models. Shares briefly traded below $100 on Wednesday, before finishing just above that level, down 2 percent. Shares have traded as high as nearly $135 in the past year.

Some of Apple's drop is due to the Wall Street tradition of selling winners at the beginning of the year to delay paying any taxes on those gains until well into the following year. "We notice it more this year, as valuations in some of the winners have gotten extreme," Hogan said.

Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) fell 5 percent after the restaurant chain said it had been served with a federal grand jury subpoena as part of a criminal probe tied to a norovirus outbreak this summer in California.

A report released ahead of the U.S. markets' open showed U.S. companies hired more workers than expected last month. Other data has service companies continuing to fare better than manufacturing in December, while factory orders declined in November, as expected.

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