US stock closing: U.S. stocks on Monday suffered their biggest drop since November after a strong showing in Italian elections by groups opposed to the country's economic reforms triggered worry that Europe's debt problems could once again destabilize the global economy.
The decline marks the biggest percentage drop for the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 Index since Nov.7, and drove the S&P down to its lowest close since Jan. 18. The CBOE Volatility Index or VIX, Wall Street's favorite barometer of fear, surged 34 percent, its biggest jump since Aug. 18, 2011.
Selling accelerated late in the trading session after the S&P 500 fell below the 1,500 level, which has acted as a significant support point. Monday marked the S&P's first close under 1,500 since Feb. 4.
Italy's center-left coalition holds a slim lead over former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right bloc in the election for the lower house of parliament, three TV projections indicated. But any government must also command a majority in the Senate, a race that is decided by region.
The resulting gridlock in parliament could lead to new elections and cast into doubt Italy's ability to pay down its debt.
"Europe hasn't gone away as an issue, it is going to hang around, and it is rearing its ugly head today," said Stephen Massocca, managing director of Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.
"If someone gets elected who is simply not going to play by the rules, what are they going to do? It puts them in a real quandary here because their financial support, their monetary support is all stipulated by the fact that these austerity programs are going to be in place."
Earlier polls pointing to a center-left victory boosted stocks in Milan and other European markets, and also helped lift the S&P 500 to a session high of 1,525.84 on optimism that Italy would continue down its austerity path.
After a strong start to the year, equities have retreated more recently. The S&P 500's slight fall last week was its first weekly drop after a seven-week string of gains.
In Monday's volatile session, banks and other financial stocks were among the worst performers on worries about the sector's exposure to Italy's massive debt. The KBW Bank Index fell 2.7 percent.
The CBOE Volatility Index ended at 18.99, up 34.02 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 216.40 points, or 1.55 percent, to 13,784.17 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index lost 27.75