U.S. stocks are closing sharply lower, led by a decline in energy stocks as the price of oil plunged to its lowest level since 2008. The price of crude closed below $34 a barrel Wednesday after more signs emerged that China’s huge economy is slowing down.

At the close on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average had fallen nearly 252.2 points, about 1.5 percent, to 16,906.5. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 26.5 points, about 1.3 percent, at 1,990.3, and the Nasdaq composite had given up 55.7 points, about 1.1 percent, to 4,835.8.

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As the markets closed the price of U.S. benchmark crude oil was down $2, about 5.6 percent, at $33.97 a barrel in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Oil and gas stocks bore the brunt of the selling. Southwestern Energy dropped 13 percent and Marathon Oil sank 12 percent.