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U.S. Stocks Tank on China and Greece Worries; Dow Gives Up Year's Gains

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Wall Street ended the week on a dour note, taking direction from a global selloff triggered as Greece debt woes appeared insurmountable and changes in Chinese market regulation spooked investors. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 279 points and gave up all its gains for the year. 

A series of poor earnings from the likes of American Express (AXP) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) also hurt stocks and prompted worries over first-quarter performance for the companies in the S&P 500.

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"We still believe a technical market correction is not that far away as the debut of Q1 earnings disappoint. We reiterate that the strong dollar will, to a major degree, have an impact on earnings and setting the stage for an 8% to 10% pullback," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global, heading into earnings season earlier in the month.

The S&P 500 fell 1.1% on Friday, the Dow slid 1.5%, and the Nasdaq tumbled 1.5%. The sharp decline caused the Volatility Index, otherwise known as the "fear index," to rocket more than 16% higher to 14.69.

Worries over Greece's future peaked on Friday after Pierre Moscovici, European commissioner for economic and financial affairs, said there was little chance a debt deal would be agreed upon next week.

Greece will likely run out of money and default to the International Monetary Fund as early as May unless it proposes acceptable reforms in order to gain access to further debt relief. The debt-ravaged nation could still seal a deal by a May 11 meeting if progress in negotiations begins to be made now, Moscovici told The Financial Times.

Wall Street also grew nervous on reports Chinese regulators will crack down on over-the-counter margin trading and regulations that allow fund managers to lend shares for short-selling. Global markets sold off on the reports on the view that tighter regulation would limit the recent influx of money into China's Shanghai Composite and Hong Kong's Hang Seng.

"Welcome to the world of 2015, when our market imports whatever is bad from overseas -- Chinese short-selling rules for example -- but gets nothing good, like their booming exports to us," TheStreet's Jim Cramer wrote in his recent column for Real Money Pro.

Futures in China's Shanghai Composite and Hong Kong's Hang Seng tumbled, triggering a wave of selling in European and U.S. markets.

"What we're seeing right now is a combination of panic and technical levels being wiped out and exacerbating the move lower," Craig Erlam, London-based analyst at Oanda Corp, told Bloomberg.

The U.S. dollar enjoyed its best three-month period since 2008 over the first quarter as the Federal Reserve moved towards monetary policy normalization and currency markets were favored as a safe haven. However, the stronger dollar has hurt multinationals as overseas profits are diminished on currency translation.

American Express was the latest multinational to suffer currency headwinds, falling 4.4% after reporting quarterly revenue below estimates. The credit-card company said weaker results were due to currency conversion and the loss of several key partnerships, including with Costco (COST), over the quarter.

Honeywell (HON) fell 2.1% after cutting its full-year sales outlook to $39 billion to $39.6 billion from a previous range as high as $41.1 billion due to the stronger dollar. Honeywell generates more than half its sales in international operations.

AMD tanked more than 12% after posting a wider-than-expected quarterly loss and weaker current-quarter revenue guidance. The chipmaker has suffered as PC demand slumps.

There were some winners over the first quarter, though. General Electric (GE) posted first-quarter adjusted earnings per share of 31 cents, a penny better than analysts' estimates. Revenue fell 12% to $29.4 billion. Profit in its industrial division spiked 9%. The company has been refocusing operations on its manufacturing businesses and moving away from its finance operations.

Schlumberger (SLB) reported adjusted profit of $1.06 a share which beat estimates of 91 cents. Earnings were down from a year earlier, though, as drilling activity declined over the year. The company announced plans to cut 11,000 jobs on top of the 9,000 layoffs announced earlier this year.

Mattel (MAT) added 5.7% after reporting a quarterly loss of 8 cents a share, a penny narrower than expected. Sales of $922.7 million came in higher than expected, the first time revenue has beaten estimates in a year.

There was a bright spot in the afternoon session as Teva Pharmaceuticals (TEVA - Get Report) and Mylan (MYL - Get Report) rocketed higher. Teva is reportedly exploring a bid for Mylan, though no decision has been made yet, according to The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

Oil prices settled lower on Friday afternoon despite a drop in domestic drilling activity in the past week. Baker Hughes (BHI) reported a 3.4% decline in oil drilling rigs in North America for the week ended April 17, more than half activity a year earlier. West Texas Intermediate was down 1.7% to $55.74 a barrel on Friday, though closed 7.9% higher for the week.

"The crude complex is once again trying to catch its breath after the last week of rallying higher. But just as we saw yesterday, there feels like there is some underlying buoyancy," said Matt Smith, commodity analyst at Schneider Electric.

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