Wall St opens lower as oil plunges further, Oil prices hit fresh post 2009 lows

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Wall Street opened lower on Tuesday as shares of energy companies and miners were dragged down by a continued slide in oil prices and fears of a global economic slowdown on weak Chinese trade data.

U.S. crude fell below US$37 per barrel for the first time since early 2009 amid fears the world was running out of capacity to store crude as a global glut intensifies.

Oil majors Exxon and Chevron were down more than 3 percent, while miner Freeport McMoRan fell 3.6 per cent. Exxon was the biggest drag on the S&P and was the second-biggest drag on the Dow.

"The fall in oil prices suggests weak demand globally and has worried investors as they put together their outlook for the coming year," said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida.

At 9:46 a.m. ET (10.46 Singapore time) the Dow Jones industrial average was down 179.28 points, or 1.01 per cent, at 17,551.23, the S&P 500 was down 17.03 points, or 0.82 per cent, at 2,060.04 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 35.52 points, or 0.7 per cent, at 5,066.29.

All 10 major S&P sectors were lower with the energy index's 3.29 per cent fall leading the decliners. The materials index was also down 1.61 per cent.

Data showed China's imports fell for the 13th consecutive month, with an 8.7 per cent decline in November compared with a year earlier.

Investors are awaiting the U.S. Federal Reserve's meeting on Dec. 15-16, when the central bank is expected to raise interest rates for the first time since June 2006. "The Fed is still leaning heavily towards a rate hike but it's not a done deal as yet," Mr Brown said, adding that the central bank will reintroduce uncertainties if it fails to raise rates next week.

Federal funds futures contracts imply an 80 percent chance that the Fed will end seven years of near-zero interest rates.

U.S. stocks fell on Monday, led by the S&P energy index's biggest one-day percentage drop since late August.