Bloodletting resumes on Wall Street as Dow sinks 500 points on economic jitters ahead of Fed meeting

Nearly 2,000 stocks on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq hit 52-week lows, the most in nearly three years. Only 40 reached new highs.
Nearly 2,000 stocks on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq hit 52-week lows, the most in nearly three years. Only 40 reached new highs. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Wall Street's major indexes all slid more than 2 per cent on Monday (Dec 18), with the benchmark S&P 500 closing at its lowest in 14 months, on concerns about slowing economic growth ahead of a highly anticipated decision from the Federal Reserve this week on the course of US interest-rate hikes.

The S&P 500 hit its lowest since October 2017 to breach lows reached during its sell-off in February, having wiped out about US$3.4 trillion of market value since late September. The small-cap Russell 2000 index confirmed a bear market, having fallen more than 20 per cent from its Aug 31 closing high.

A profit warning from British retailer ASOS raised concerns about weakening consumer strength, despite robust US retail sales data on Friday. The National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index indicated homebuilder sentiment had fallen to a three-and-a-half-year low.

The S&P 500 briefly erased its losses in late-morning trade, but the index resumed its steep decline after Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive of DoubleLine Capital, said that US stocks were in a bear market.

Nearly 2,000 stocks on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq hit 52-week lows, the most in nearly three years. Only 40 reached new highs.

Concerns about flagging consumer sentiment pushed down S&P 500 consumer discretionary stocks, which tumbled 2.8 per cent. Shares of Amazon.com Inc dropped 4.5 per cent, creating the biggest drag on the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq. Retail stocks declined overall, with the S&P 500 Retailing Index falling 3.4 per cent.

Investors said market skittishness was likely to persist heading into the Federal Open Market Committee meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday.

 
 

An indication that the Fed would slow its pace of interest-rate hikes could calm markets, but the US central bank's intentions remain unclear, said Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"We're all holding our breath for the Fed," Detrick said. "If the Fed takes its foot off the pedal for the first half of next year, that would get rid of one uncertainty."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 507.53 points, or 2.11 per cent, to 23,592.98, the S&P 500 lost 54.01 points, or 2.08 per cent, to 2,545.94 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 156.93 points, or 2.27 per cent, to 6,753.73.

The Cboe Volatility Index, the most widely followed gauge of expected near-term gyrations for the S&P 500, finished up 2.89 points at 24.52, its highest close in seven weeks.

Shares of insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc fell 2.6 per cent after a federal judge late on Friday ruled that the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, was unconstitutional. UnitedHealth was the biggest drag on the Dow.

Johnson & Johnson shares fell for a second consecutive session following a Reuters report that the company knew for decades that its baby powder contained asbestos. J&J shares ended 2.9 per cent lower.

Shares of Goldman Sachs Group dropped 2.8 per cent to a two-year low after Malaysia filed criminal charges against the bank in connection with an investigation into suspected corruption and money laundering involving the sovereign wealth fund 1MDB. The stock has the biggest year-to-date per centage decline among Dow components.

Twitter shares slid 6.8 per cent after the social media company warned of suspicious traffic from China and Saudi Arabia and disclosed an issue that could have revealed the country code of its users' phone numbers.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by a 5.55-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 4.31-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted one new 52-week high and 116 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 10 new highs and 556 new lows.

Volume on US exchanges was 9.44 billion shares, compared to the 8.01 billion average over the last 20 trading days