New York - US stocks fell early on Tuesday, following most global equity markets down after China reported the largest decline in exports since May 2009.
About 40 minutes into trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 16 972.73, down 101.22 points (0.59%).
The broad-based S&P 500 fell 16.06 (0.80%) to 1 985.70, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 32.26 (0.69%) to 4 676.00.
Chinese customs figures showed exports from the world's second-biggest economy sank 25.4% on-year to $126.1bn last month, sharper than the 14.5% economists predicted and the biggest drop in nearly seven years.
Chinese imports fell for the 16th consecutive month, plunging 13.8% to $93.6bn, overshooting a Bloomberg News forecast of a 12% slide.
The weak Chinese data, coupled with Japanese data confirming negative growth for the fourth quarter, "sapped investor appetite for risk," said Joe Manimbo, senior market analyst at Western Union Business Solutions.
Petroleum-linked shares were in retreat, reversing gains Monday. Marathon Oil fell 7.3%, Apache 6% and Halliburton 3.1%.
Leading airline shares were lower following the surge in oil prices over the last couple of weeks. American Airlines fell 4%, Delta Air Lines 4.4% and Southwest Airlines 2%.
United Continental was down 2.5% on news it faces a proxy fight over its board composition.
Shareholders Altimeter Capital Management, LP and PAR Capital Management, which own 7.1% of United shares, said they would nominate six candidates for the board led by former Continental Airlines chief executive Gordon Bethune. United said it was disappointed with the campaign and was working to boost corporate governance.
United separately announced it would buy 25 more 737-700 aircraft from Boeing. Boeing dipped 0.8%.
Urban Outfitters surged 12.7% after reporting better-than-expected earnings for the quarter ending January 31. Net sales were slightly above $1bn and a bit above those in the year-ago period.