The stock market put its rally back on hold as investors grew worried about rising borrowing costs.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell nearly 175 points to erase most of a rally from Tuesday as a jump in government bond yields fanned worries that higher interest rates will sap strength from the economy before it has a chance to recover.
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow fell 173.47, or 2.1 percent, to 8,300.02. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 17.27, or 1.9 percent, to 893.06, and the technology-laden Nasdaq composite index fell 19.35, or 1.1 percent, to 1,731.08.
A steep drop in the price of the benchmark 10-year Treasury note pushed its yield up to 3.72 percent from 3.55 percent late Tuesday. That increase touched off fears that the government won't be able to hold down interest rates long enough to allow the economy to recover.
Along with increasing borrowing costs for the government, rising yields on Treasury debt could hamper an economic recovery since they are used as benchmarks for certain consumer loans such as home mortgages. Higher rates on those kinds of loans could prolong a recovery in the battered housing market.
"The equity market is getting worried about the 'green shoots.' I think the deer have nipped off a few and I think a few turned out to be weeds," said Hank Herrmann, chief executive of Waddell & Reed. Herrman was referring to early positive signs in the economy that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has called "green shoots."
Investors are becoming concerned that even strong demand at times for government debt isn't leading to improvements in Treasury prices. The Federal Reserve has said it would buy up to $300 billion in Treasury debt this year as part of its efforts to keep borrowing costs low.
The drop in bond prices followed a well-received auction of $35 billion in five-year notes, part of the $101 billion in debt the government is issuing this week. Some traders fear demand could weaken as the government issues massive amounts of debt to fund its financial and economic rescue programs.
"Stocks are following bonds," said John Brady, senior vice president of global interest rate products at MF Global. "Will the economy grow and expand vigorously in the face of sustained higher interest rates?"
On Tuesday, stocks soared on the Conference Board's surprisingly high reading of consumer confidence. The May index was the highest since September. Consumer sentiment does not always correspond to consumer spending, but the data nevertheless fueled investors' hopes for an economic rebound later this year.