U.S. stocks recovered much of an early plunge, but the price of oil suffered its worst one-day drop since September.
Energy companies were pummeled as the latest fall in oil threatened more damage to an industry that has been stricken with bankruptcies, layoffs and other cutbacks.
Exxon Mobil fell 4 percent and Chevron fell 3 percent.
Crude fell below $27 a barrel, the lowest price since May 2003 and a far cry from the $100 a barrel it fetched in the summer of 2014.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 249 points, or 1.6 percent, to 15,766. It was down as much as 565 earlier.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 22 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,859. The Nasdaq composite slipped five points, or 1 percent, to 4,471.