NEW YORK, Apr. 13 -- The U.S. stocks fell on Tuesday as Japan lifted the alert level on its nuclear crisis, a sharp drop of oil prices pulled down energy stocks, and Alcoa Inc.'s sales report disappointed investors.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 117.53 points, or 0.95 percent, to close at 12,263.58. That was the largest drop since March 16, when the Dow lost 242 points on fears of a nuclear crisis in Japan.
The Standard & Poor's 500 lost 10.30 points, or 0.78 percent, to 1,314.16. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 26.72 points, or 0.96 percent, to 2,744.79.
On Tuesday, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency raised the severity rating of its nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai- Ichi station to the highest level, matching the severity of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and boosting concerns about Japan's economic growth. U.S. small business optimism fell by 2.6 points to 91.9 on Tuesday in the wake of Japan's crisis.
The Commerce Department said in its monthly trade report that U. S. exports fell 1.4 percent in February, more than economists had expected and a worrisome sign for U.S. economic growth. The International Monetary Fund on Monday cut its growth forecasts for the United States and Japan, which also pressured the markets.
Crude oil prices fell sharply on Tuesday as Goldman Sachs warned investors that crude oil was on a "substantial pullback" path and Brent crude would fall back to 105 dollars a barrel. New York crude benchmark for May delivery dropped 3.67 dollars, or 3. 34 percent, to settle at 106.25 dollars a barrel, while in London Brent crude for May delivery also fell sharply, down 3.06 dollars or 2.47 percent to settle at 120.92 dollars a barrel.
The energy sector tumbled 2.89 percent. Stocks of oil drillers, suppliers and producers fell sharply. Exxon Mobil Corporation was down 2.33 percent, Chevron Corporation slipped 3.34 percent, and Conoco Phillips dropped 3.69 percent. Airlines, on the other hand, were buoyed by the falling oil prices. Delta went up 4.96 percent and United Continental surged 5.56 percent.
Goldman's decision to also book profits on metals, including gold, silver, copper and platinum, sent prices of these commodities falling as well. Gold closed nearly 1 percent lower at 1,452.90 dollars an ounce. This caused the basic material sector to fall 1.76 percent.
Alcoa Inc. lost 6.02 percent after the aluminum maker missed investors' forecasts on revenue. It led the materials lower and joined Chevron and ExxonMobil to lead the Dow's drop. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Google are scheduled to report earnings throughout the week.