Metals and other commodities fell Thursday, led by a tumble of more than 5 percent in silver, as discouraging news about the economy kept piling up.
Both precious and industrial metals fell. Silver priced for July delivery lost $1.55 to $26.839 per ounce. August gold slid $50.30, more than 3 percent, to $1,565.50 per ounce.
Silver and gold often move in synch, but silver tends to fluctuate more because of its lower price.
On the stock market, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped about 250 points as investors worried over reports about slowing manufacturing in China and the U.S.
Sometimes investors pile in to the precious metals when they're nervous about the economy. But Howard Wen, a research associate in precious metals at HSBC, said it's likely that investors Thursday were selling off their stakes in precious metals to cover losses in stocks and other portfolios.
One of the places that investors seemed to be putting their money Thursday was in U.S. government securities The yield on the 10-year Treasury note inched down to about 1.6 percent, which means the government didn't have to pay as much in interest to persuade people to buy its notes.
The declines came a day after the Federal Reserve announced it will extend Operation Twist, a program meant to help the economy by keeping interest rates low. Gold also plunged when the Fed first announced Operation Twist last September, Wen pointed out.
The declines were broad and also included industrial metals and oil, which are tightly tied to what investors believe about the future of manufacturing and construction.
July copper lost 8.95 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $3.298 per pound. September palladium fell $10.95, or nearly 2 percent, to $608.55 per ounce. July platinum fell $28.20, or nearly 2 percent, to $1,438.60 per ounce.
The price of oil hit its lowest level in almost nine months, falling $3.25 to $78.20 a barrel in New York. That's down 29 percent from a peak in February, and analysts think it could continue to fall if the economy keeps sputtering.
Brent crude, which helps set the price of oil imported into the U.S., fell by $3.46 to end at $89.23 per barrel in London.
In other energy futures trading, heating oil lost 6.21 cents to end at $2.5253 per gallon, while wholesale gasoline lost 4.01 cents to finish at $2.5501 per gallon.
Natural gas futures bucked the downward trend. They rose by 6.5 cents to end at $2.582 per 1,000 cubic feet in New York. The government said Thursday that the country's natural gas supplies didn't grow as much as analysts expected last week.
Prices for wheat, corn and soybeans fell after rising earlier in the week, when investors thought that a hot, dry summer could crimp crop supplies.
December contracts for corn lost nearly 3 percent, falling 16.5 cents to $5.50 per bushel. November contracts for soybeans fell 24.25 cents to $13.712 per bushel. July wheat fell slightly, losing 2.25 cents to $6.6175 per bushel, but it was still up 8 percent for the week.