The Toronto Stock Exchange closed down 246.13 points Thursday, ending the day at 13,638.58.

It had earlier been as much as 300 points lower.

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The TSX composite index over the past three months

It's the lowest close since Jan. 31.

The drop was nearly 1.8 per cent. Uncertainty about the strength of the economic recovery, driven by disappointing trade data from China and concern about government debt in some European countries, cut prices for oil and metals.

China posted a surprise trade deficit on Thursday, its largest in more than seven years.

Oil lost $1.68 US in New York, with a barrel trading for $102.70. The traditional safe haven of gold was no safer, with bullion losing $17.10 to $1,412.20.    

The TSX energy, gold and mining sub-indexes all fell about 2.5 per cent.

New York markets were also sharply lower. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 222.48 points to close at 11,984.61. The Nasdaq was 50.70 points lower, at 2,701.02.

The May copper contract in New York lost two cents to $4.20 US a pound.

Copper prices have slipped about seven per cent from mid-February amid worries that higher energy prices could hobble demand.

The loonie was 0.73 of a US cent lower, at 102.50 cents US.