An early rally fizzled and U.S. stocks slumped in late afternoon Wednesday. The declines were led by energy stocks as the price of crude oil fell sharply.

At the close on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average had fallen 239.1 points, about 1.5 percent, to 16,253.6. It had been up about 1 percent at the opening. The Standard & Poor's 500 index likewise retreated. It closed down 27.4 points, about 1.4 percent, at 1,942. The Nasdaq composite gave up 55.4 points, about 1.2 percent, to close at 4,756.5.

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OIL FALLS. As the markets closed, the price of U.S. benchmark crude oil fell $1.61 to $44.33 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

JOB OPENINGS SURGE. U.S. data Wednesday showed job openings surged to a record in July, a sign employment will keep climbing. The number of positions waiting to be filled jumped by 430,000, the biggest gain since April 2010, to 5.75 million. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast 5.3 million openings.

"More job openings suggest the labor market is getting stronger and that the Fed shouldn't keep interest rates near zero," said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones.