The Canadian dollar again fell against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday, closing below the 70-cent US level for the first time since April 30, 2003. North American stock markets also ended the day markedly lower, with triple-digit losses in both Toronto and New York. 

The loonie closed at 69.71 cents US, down 0.43 cents from Tuesday's close. Earlier in the day, it traded as low as 69.54 cents US. 

"We're paying close attention to the state of the Canadian dollar," federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Wednesday afternoon in Toronto, the latest stop on his pre-budget consultation tour.

"Canadians pay close attention and they want to know that we are watching to make sure that we understand how that impacts our economy," he said. 

But, in the end, the value of the dollar "is not something that's in our control," Morneau said.

Stock markets sold off in a major way. The S&P/TSX composite index closed 203 points lower, or 1.6 per cent, at 12,170, led by losses in the energy, financial and industrial sectors.

The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 365 points, or 2.2 per cent, to end the trading day at 16,152, while the broader S&P 500 index fell 48 points, or 2.5 per cent, to 1,890. That brings the drop in the benchmark S&P index to 10 per cent from its November peak — making it an official market correction. 

Crude oil futures rose four cents to settle at $30.48 US a barrel in New York trading — the first daily gain after eight straight losing sessions. The futures contract had been up more than $1 earlier in the trading session.

That early gain all but evaporated when the U.S. Energy Information Administration released its weekly inventory report that showed a build in crude supplies and a big surge in diesel and gasoline stockpiles. Crude oil futures had briefly slipped below $30 US a barrel in New York trading on Tuesday. 

Bank of Canada in spotlight

Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, says the tumble in oil prices is the main culprit behind the steady fall in the loonie. 

He said there's been speculation that Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz may "kick off 2016 with a rate cut the same way he did in 2015."

Several analysts, like Capital Economics' David Madani, believe the Bank of Canada will drop its key lending rate by another quarter of a percentage point on Jan. 20 — its next scheduled rate announcement.

"The incoming data suggest that the economy contracted in the final quarter of last year, and was therefore much weaker than the Bank's forecast of a 1.5 per cent annualized gain," Madani wrote in a morning commentary, adding that he thinks the big drop in oil prices in the past month "has completely undermined prospects for economic growth this year."

10-YEAR CANADIAN DOLLAR CHART

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press