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Dow heading toward first triple-digit decline of the year

Concerns about slowing global growth sent the stock market down hard early Tuesday -- putting the Dow Jones industrial average on a path toward its first triple-digit decline of the year.

The sell-off was driven partly by data showing that Europe’s economy contracted 0.3% in the fourth quarter, renewing fears that lingering troubles on the continent still have the potential to spread throughout the global economy.

That was exacerbated by uncertainty over a proposed restructuring of Greek debt that is scheduled for this week. Private investors are deciding whether to take part in a voluntary exchange of debt in which they would write off more than half the face value of their Greek fixed-income holdings.

Many professional investors say the market is susceptible to at least a short-term downturn after a powerful rally over the last five months that had carried the Dow past 13,000. Despite generally upbeat U.S. economic news, concern has grown that stocks have gotten ahead of themselves.

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As of 7 a.m. PST, the Dow, which suffered its last triple-digit decline in late December, was off 144.97 points, or 1.1%, to 12,817.84. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gave up 16.54 points, or 1.2%, to 1,347.79.

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