Modestly lower open puts U.S. stocks on track for fifth straight daily decline


U.S. stock indexes ended mostly lower on Wednesday with the S&P 500 notching the fifth straight day of losses driven by worries about the chances of an harder economic downturn unfolding in coming months.

How stocks traded
  • S&P 500 SPX, -0.19% shed 7.34 points, or 0.2%, to end at 3,933.92
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.00% gained 1.58 points, or nearly flat, finishing at 33,597.92, after rallying over 145 points in the morning session.
  • Nasdaq Composite COMP, -0.51% fell 56.34 points, or 0.5%, to finish at 10,958.55

On Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 351 points, or 1.03%, to 33596, the S&P 500 declined 58 points, or 1.44%, to 3,941, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 225 points, or 2%, to 11,015.

What drove markets

The S&P 500 index has lost 3.4% in the past four days as investors continued to assess the potential economic damage inflicted by high inflation and the Federal Reserve’s campaign to damp it by raising interest rates.

“Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint precise catalysts for all these moves that we see. It’s been a very volatile year, and you never know if it’s sentiment or positioning or if it’s actual news that the market is responding to,” said David Lefkowitz, head of equities Americas at UBS Global Wealth Management.

Lefkowitz said when the Fed is done hiking its benchmark interest rate some time next year, the markets will focus more on the economic growth, which means “any weakness in economic growth is going to be taken negatively.” Conversely, if the economy remains resilient, and the market believes that the Fed is done and inflation is coming down, the good news will be good news, Lefkowitz said.

Jim Reid, strategist at Deutsche Bank, noted that the S&P 500 through Tuesday lost ground in the last seven out of eight sessions. “In fact, the latest moves for the S&P mean it’s now unwound the entirety of the rally following Fed Chair Powell’s [supposedly dovish] speech last week, which makes sense on one level given he didn’t actually say anything particularly new.”

The S&P 500 has fallen 17.5% in 2022 as the Federal Reserve has driven borrowing costs sharply higher in an effort to tame inflation that has been running at the fastest pace in 40 years.

See: BNP Paribas studied 100 years of market crashes — here’s what it says is coming next

The Fed’s monetary tightening alongside stubborn inflation may deliver a marked economic slowdown, senior bankers such as JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs’s David Solomon warned this week.

“Fears are growing that economies are in for a rough time ahead as feverish inflation and the bitter interest rate medicine being used to bring it down take effect,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown.

However, long time bull Tom Lee, head of research at Fundstrat, reckons equities will benefit in coming weeks as investors start to get greater clarity on when the Fed may stop tightening policy.

“We don’t think the end of the inflation war in 2022 is the Fed cutting rates. It is when Fed and markets see sufficient progress in inflation to remove the upside risks to higher rates. We think this could happen as early as the November CPI report. This will be released on 12/13,” Lee wrote in a note.

Related: Goldilocks or bust: Fate of U.S. economy rests on Fed getting inflation fight right

On the U.S. economic front, nonfarm productivity, which measures hourly output change per worker, rose at a 0.8% annualized rate last quarter, the Labor Department said on Wednesday. Unit labor costs, the price of labor per single unit of output, climbed by a smaller 2.4% annual pace in the third quarter, compared with the preliminary 3.5% increase.

Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management, thinks the fundamental challenges of higher interest rates and slowing economic growth will linger when entering 2023, and he does not think the economic conditions for a sustained upturn are yet in place.

“But given the prospect of periodic rallies, we prefer strategies that add downside protection while retaining upside exposure. We favor defensive sectors and value stocks within equities; income opportunities in higher-quality and investment grade bonds; “safe havens” like the US dollar and Swiss franc, and seeking uncorrelated returns through alternatives.”

What companies were in focus

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