Stocks end with losses from sell-off

Specialists Vincent Surace, left, and Michael Urizzo, and

Specialists Vincent Surace, left, and Michael Urizzo, and traders Gregory Rowe, third left, and Peter Costa work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday, July 9, 2014. (Credit: AP / Richard Drew)

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Stocks ended lower Thursday as fears about the health of a European bank created a sell-off that sent investors to the safer havens of gold and government bonds.

Although prices recovered slightly late in the day, the indexes still closed with losses. At the end of trading on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 70.5 points, or about 0.4 percent, to finish at 16,915.1. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 8.2 points, or about 0.4 percent, to 1,964.7. The Nasdaq was off 22.8 points, or about 0.5 percent, at 4,396.2.

U.S. markets were hit by earlier stock losses in Europe, where worries over the finances of one of Portugal's largest financial groups slammed stocks and pushed investors into safer assets such as government bonds and gold. Eight of the 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 fell.

PORTUGAL QUESTIONS: Worries emerged overnight about the financial stability of Espirito Santo International, a holding company that is the largest shareholder in a group of Espirito Santo family companies, including the parent of Portugal's largest bank, Banco Espirito Santo.

Espirito Santo International reportedly missed a debt payment this week and was cited for accounting irregularities -- issues that sparked Europe's debt crisis four years ago. The bank's share price fell sharply and is an unwelcome relapse for investors. Portugal concluded its three-year international bailout program in May.

RESCUE FEARS: Portugal is one of the smaller eurozone economies and, like Greece and Ireland, needed an international rescue in 2011 during the continent's debt crisis. A three-year economic recovery program was supposed to straighten out its finances. Difficulties at Banco Espirito Santo have triggered fears there not everything is resolved in the eurozone.

Portugal needed a 78 billion euro rescue in 2011, one of several nations that required a bailout during the eurozone's debt crisis. The debt crisis in Europe was largely responsible for the U.S. stock market's last correction, a situation when a market falls 10 percent or more. At that time, investors worried the crisis could spread to the U.S. economy, which was starting to recover from its own financial crisis.

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