Stocks fell on Wall Street Tuesday, continuing a volatile bout of trading that has sent markets swinging between steep losses and gains as investors gauge several threats.
Higher inflation has been squeezing businesses and consumers, and the Federal Reserve is expected to combat it in 2022 by raising interest rates. Investors fear that the Fed could either be moving too late or could be too aggressive. The central bank issues its latest policy statement Wednesday.
The virus pandemic still hovers over the economy and threatens to crimp progress with every new wave. The International Monetary Fund cited the omicron variant as the reason it has downgraded its forecast for global economic growth this year.
And a potential conflict between Russia and Ukraine threatens to push energy prices even higher while forcing more countries to focus on fighting a war instead of inflation and COVID-19.
The S&P 500 fell 0.9% as of 1:52 p.m. Eastern. The benchmark index, which was down 2.8% in the early going, has been falling steadily ever since hitting a record high on the first trading day of the year, Jan. 3. It’s now getting closer to entering a “correction,” which among markets watchers means a drop of 10% from a peak.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 44 points, or 0.1%, to 34,319. The blue-chip index had been down 818 points in morning trading. The tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 1.7%. The index had initially slumped 3.2%. The Nasdaq entered a correction last week and is now down more than 15% from its high set on Nov. 19.
Small company stocks were down more than the broader market, pulling the Russell 2000 index 1.4% lower.
Major indexes had a similar start to trading on Monday and were down most of the day before a late buying spree pushed them to a higher close. That rebound may have been just a “head fake,” said Barry Bannister, chief equity strategist at Stifel. More declines are likely in store for the market, he said.
The market downturn reflects Wall Street’s worry over signs of slowing economic growth because of COVID-19 and a Fed that can’t really go back on what it said it would do, Bannister said.
“The market has come to terms with that and that’s a big deal,” he said. “Fiscal and monetary tightening, together, is tough on financial assets when they’re coming off of a rip-roaring party from stimulus.”
Even though the S&P 500 managed to eke out a gain after its roller-coaster ride on Monday, a measure of nervousness on Wall Street known as the VIX index remained high. That suggests stress is continuing to grow in the system, with markets in a “high speed spin cycle,” strategists at UBS wrote in a report.
Futures contracts related to the VIX, meanwhile, indicate investors are preparing for a high level of volatility in the near term but less in ensuing months. That’s a flip from their typical behavior last year.
Technology stocks again led the losses as investors worry about rising interest rates. Higher interest rates tend to make shares in high-flying tech companies and other expensive growth stocks less attractive. Microsoft fell 2.7%.
Retailers, banks and communications companies also fell. Home Depot fell 1.8% and Netflix fell 5%. U.S. crude oil prices rose 2.4% and helped send energy stocks higher. Occidental Petroleum rose 5.4%. Utilities and other sectors that are considered less risky held up better than most of the market.
Bond yields rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.78% from 1.74% late Monday.
The price of gold, often considered a hedge against inflation, rose 0.6%.