Worry about Chinese demand drives US stocks lower

Stocks closed lower Tuesday for only the second time in two weeks after two reports suggested an economic slowdown in China, where blistering growth over the past three years has helped sustain the global economic recovery.

Home prices dropped in 45 Chinese cities last month, a result of government policies designed to reduce property speculation. And BHP Billiton, a mining company, predicted that China will not use much more iron ore in 2020 than it does today.

In the United States, stocks recovered some of their early loss but still closed lower. The Dow Jones industrial average declined 68.94 points to 13,170.19. It had been down as much as 116 points.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed down 4.23 points at 1,405.52. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 4.17 points to 3,074.15.

Brian Gendreau, a market strategist at the brokerage Cetera Financial Group, said traders were concerned about slower growth in India and Brazil as well. That could rein in a rally that has driven the S&P up almost 12 percent this year.

“If there were skeptics out there that the market might have gotten a little ahead of itself, this was all the news they needed,” Gendreau said.

Mining companies, which rely on rising demand from the developing world, plunged. Peabody Energy fell 5.4 percent, Cliffs Natural Resources 2.4 percent and U.S. Steel 0.9 percent. Energy stocks were the worst-performing group in the S&P 500.

Caterpillar, the maker of heavy equipment, led the Dow lower and slid 2.6 percent after it said global sales are growing more slowly. Bank of America, by far the most active stock in the Dow, led the average with a 2.9 percent gain.

Besides the report on home prices and the prediction of weaker demand for iron ore, which is used to make steel, China raised the price of gasoline for the second time in two months. That could hurt demand for fuel.

China’s economy grew at an annual rate of 8.9 percent in the last three months of 2011, but the government, which is worried that the economy will overheat, has set a growth target of 7.5 percent this year.

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