WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Shares of major gold producers plunged Tuesday, outpacing a global sell-off, as crisis selling reminded investors that the metal, usually seen as a safe haven, isn't quite as safe as cash. Stocks plunged and bond prices rose as a nuclear crisis in Japan intensified after a deadly earthquake and tsunami. Investors followed updates from a crippled nuclear plant on Japan's northeastern coast that was leaking a dangerous level of radiation. Gold prices plummeted, an unusual outcome during times of potential global strife. Investors see gold as a safe investment, and typically bid it up when events roil financial markets. Yet spot prices fell more than 3 percent, according to Kitco Metals Inc. Gold producers followed suit, losing as much as 8 percent in midday trading. Analysts said gold's safety doesn't extend to periods of true crisis. Like stocks and bonds, investors sell it when they need cash. That's exactly the situation that Japan's people, companies and government find themselves in. Adding to the trouble was a run-up in gold prices just before the quake. Gold gained 8 percent in February as political unrest in the Middle East boosted oil prices and complicated the global recovery. Investors were itching to cash in those gains, analysts said. When gold prices swing, shares of gold producers move even more. After initially falling as much as 297 points, the Dow backtracked and was down 168 points, or 1.4 percent, at 11,825 in early afternoon trading. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 17 points, or 1.4 percent, to 1,278. The Nasdaq composite index fell 37, or 1.4 percent, to 2,664. New Gold Inc. skidded 80 cents, or 8 percent, to $9.36. Almaden Minerals Ltd. fell 26 cents, or 7 percent, to $3.39. China New Borun Corp. lost 47 cents, or 4 percent, to $10.23.