An early rally drove major indexes sharply higher but was gone by midday, leaving the market headed lower for the rest of the day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average swung from a high of 214 points to a low of 350 before the sell-off eased somewhat by late-afternoon.
Technology companies, banks and insurers fared the worst, their losses outweighing gains in other sectors.
Bond prices rose as traders shifted money into low-risk assets. That pulled yields down, which hurts banks by driving interest rates on loans lower. Energy stocks rebounded as crude oil prices snapped a 12-day losing streak. Precious metals also rose.
The S&P 500 index fell 20.60 points, or 0.8 percent, to 2,701.58. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 205.99 points, or 0.8 percent, to 25,080.50. The Nasdaq composite dropped 64.48 points, or 0.9 percent, to 7,136.39. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 12.30 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,502.51.
The latest losses placed the indexes on track to finish the month with a loss.
Bond prices, which had been declining, also began climbing as traders favored safe-haven assets. That sent the yield on the 10-year Treasury note down to 3.12 percent from 3.14 percent late Tuesday.
The price of U.S. crude oil closed higher, ending a 12-day skid. The rebound came a day after U.S. crude oil had its steepest drop in more than three years. All told, benchmark U.S. crude oil gained 1 percent to settle at $56.25 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 1 percent to close at $66.12 a barrel in London.
Forecasts calling for a cold snap across much of the Northeast and South helped push the price of natural gas sharply higher. It soared 17.9 percent to $4.84 per 1,000 cubic feet.
The rebound in oil and gas prices helped boost energy stocks. Cimarex Energy climbed 2.6 percent to $86.57.
Technology sector companies took some of the heaviest losses. Apple dropped 2.8 percent to $186.80.
On the other end of the spectrum, media and communications companies led the gainers in the S&P 500. Comcast rose 1.5 percent to $38.29.
Shares in Pacific Gas & Electric had their steepest drop since 2002, sinking 21.8 percent to $25.59. The company told regulators last week that it experienced a problem on a transmission line in an area of Northern California where a deadly wildfire erupted last week. PG&E’s slide led a broad sell-off in utilities stocks.
The price of gold gained 0.7 percent to $1,210.10 an ounce. Silver also rose 0.7 percent to $14.08 an ounce. Copper added 0.9 percent to $2.71 a pound.
The dollar weakened to 113.51 yen from 113.86 yen on Wednesday. The euro strengthened to $1.1338 from $1.1268.
In other energy trading, heating oil rose 1.6 percent to $2.10 a gallon and wholesale gasoline gained 1.2 percent to $1.56 a gallon.
Major stock indexes in Europe fell, giving up early gains. Germany’s DAX dropped 0.5 percent, while France’s CAC lost 0.7 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares fell 0.3 percent.