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Stocks suffer worst loss in a month

European debt flared again as a worry for Wall Street and drove stocks Wednesday to their worst loss in a month. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 125 points, and the price of gold plunged to its lowest level since January.

It was only the second time this year the Dow has recorded a triple-digit decline. The average gained 8 percent from January through March, its best first quarter since 1998, but has lost 1 percent already in April.

The Dow was down as much as 179 points earlier in the day. It recovered to close down 124.80 at 13,074.75. Only four of the 30 stocks that make up the average rose for the day.

A disappointing auction of government debt in Spain signaled that investor confidence in that country's finances is weakening. Spain announced tax increases and budget cuts last week, which could hurt its economy further.

Bond yields in Spain shot higher, making it more expensive for the country to raise money. Benchmark stock indexes fell 2.8 percent in Germany, 2.7 percent in France and 2.3 percent in Britain.

Investors had scarcely stopped worrying about the fate of Greece when Spain took its place as the flashpoint of the debt crisis that has hobbled Europe for more than two years.

"It's like when cockroaches appear: You're never quite sure how many are out there," said John Manley, chief equity strategist for Wells Fargo Advantage Funds.

In the U.S., the Standard & Poor's 500 index finished down 14.42 at 1,398.96. The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index fell 45.48 to 3,068.09, its worst decline of the year and the sixth loss in seven days.

Crude oil fell $2.54 a barrel to $101.47, its lowest level since mid-February. Investors looking for safe places to park money drove prices for U.S. government debt and the value of the dollar higher.

The euro fell as low as $1.3106, its lowest point against the dollar in more than two weeks. It traded at $1.3217 late Tuesday.

Commodity prices fell sharply. Gold plunged $57.90, or 3.5 percent, to $1,614.10 an ounce.

Silver fell more than 6 percent Wednesday, and copper fell 3 percent.

Tuesday, minutes from the last meeting of the Federal Reserve showed that members had a sunnier view of the economy because of strong gains in the job market in December, January and February.

The Fed signaled that because the economy is improving, it is unlikely to buy bonds to stimulate the economy further. The Fed launched bond-buying programs in 2009 and 2010 to lower interest rates and help stock prices.

Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that the economy added 209,000 private-sector jobs in March. Economists think the government's monthly unemployment report on Friday will show a gain of 210,000 for March. Job growth averaged 245,000 from December through February.