* Oil prices hit fresh post 2009 lows, before paring some losses
* Data shows China’s imports fell for 13th consecutive month
* Outerwall slumps after cutting full-year forecast
* Indexes down: Dow 0.98 pct, S&P 0.75 pct, Nasdaq 0.32 pct (Updates to early afternoon)
By Tanya Agrawal
Dec 8 (Reuters) - Wall Street was lower on Tuesday as oil prices steadied but hovered near their 7-year low and weak Chinese trade data reignited fears of a global economic slowdown.
U.S. crude fell below $37 per barrel and Brent below $40 for the first time since early 2009, before paring some of those losses.
Oil major Exxon was down 2.2 percent, making it the biggest drag on the S&P. The S&P energy sector was down 0.99 percent, on track to close in the red for the fifth straight day. The sector has lost more than 11 percent since Dec. 2.
“We do think oil is putting in a bottom here as U.S. production is expected to fall and view this as a good buying opportunity,” said Gary Bradshaw, portfolio manager of Hodges Capital Management in Dallas, Texas.
All the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were lower, with the industrials’ 1.07 percent fall leading the decliners. Boeing’s 2.5 percent fall weighed the most on the Dow.
At 12:35 p.m. ET (1735 GMT) the Dow Jones industrial average was down 173.17 points, or 0.98 percent, at 17,557.34, the S&P 500 was down 15.49 points, or 0.75 percent, at 2,061.58 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 16.12 points, or 0.32 percent, at 5,085.70.
Data showed China’s imports fell for the 13th consecutive month, with an 8.7 percent decline in November compared with a year earlier.
While the fall in oil prices and weak Chinese data unsettled investors, most analysts think the U.S. Federal Reserve will go ahead with a rate hike at its meeting on Dec. 15-16.
“The market is expecting a rate hike and the Fed will reintroduce uncertainties and lose credibility if they fail to raise rates,” said Ryan Larson, head of U.S. equity trading at RBC Global Asset Management in Chicago.
The Fed had cited macro uncertainty in its decision to hold rates steady at its September meeting. While investors have been worried about a slowdown in China and the impact it would have on the global demand, steps taken by the Chinese government had assuaged some of those fears.
Federal funds futures contracts imply an 80 percent chance that the Fed will end seven years of near-zero interest rates.
Qualcomm fell 4.5 percent to $50.06 after European Union antitrust regulators charged the chipmaker with abusing its market power to thwart rival. The stock was the biggest drag on the Nasdaq.
Staples fell as much as 8 percent to hit a more than 13-year low of $9.81, a day after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint aimed at stopping the company from buying its top rival, Office Depot. Office Depot was up 1.2 percent at $5.66.
Outerwall fell 24 percent to $44.15 after the Redbox DVD rental kiosks owner cut its full-year forecast to below analysts’ expectation on Monday.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,128 to 877. On the Nasdaq, 1,652 issues fell and 1,072 advanced.
The S&P 500 index showed 6 new 52-week highs and 33 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 19 new highs and 155 new lows. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Anil D‘Silva)