Another drop for stocks on Friday has pushed the S&P 500 index 20% below its peak set early this year.
The benchmark index was down 2% for the day in early afternoon trading and on pace for its seventh straight losing week.
Rising interest rates, high inflation, the war in Ukraine, and a slowdown in China’s economy are all punishing stocks and raising fears about a possible U.S. recession.
If the S&P 500 finishes the day 20% or more below its record, it would enter what Wall Street calls a “bear market.” The last one was in early 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, an unusually brief downturn that sliced 34% off the S&P 500.
The stock market remains stuck in a slump amid worries about how inflation is squeezing businesses and consumers. Investors are also concerned about the Federal Reserve’s plan to aggressively raise interest rates and whether that will help temper inflation’s impact or potentially knock the economy into a downturn.
“Certainly the market volatility has all been driven by investor concerns that Fed will tighten policy too much and put the us into a recession,” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors.
The S&P 500 fell 2.1% as of 1:39 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 569 points, or 1.8%, to 30,683 and the Nasdaq fell 2.9%. All three are headed for drops of 4% or more for the week.
Bond yields fell as investors shifted money into lower-risk investments. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which helps set mortgage rates, fell to 2.78% from 2.85% late Thursday.
Concerns about inflation have been growing heavier with Russia's invasion of Ukraine pushing energy and some key food commodity prices higher. China, the world's second-largest economy, took a renewed hit from lockdowns in key cities because of COVID-19 cases, but a surprise interest rate cut from the Chinese government has at least temporarily eased some anxiety.
Wall Street has been digesting earnings from retailers this week. The sector is a key focus as investors try to measure how much damage inflation is inflicting on company operations and whether higher prices on everything from food to clothing is prompting consumers to tighten their spending.
Retail giants Target and Walmart both had warnings this week about inflation cutting into finances. Discount retailer Ross Stores plunged 24% on Friday after cutting its profit forecast and citing rising inflation as a factor.
“The latest earnings from retail companyies finally signaled that U.S. consumers and businesses are being negatively impacted by inflation,” Arone said.
Investors continue watching the Fed for hints of more interest rate hikes to cool inflation that is running at a four-decade high. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said this week the U.S. central bank might take more aggressive action if price pressures fail to ease.
Technology stocks fell broadly and weighed down the market. Applied Materials, which produces chipmaking equipment, fell 7.7%. The tech sector has been particularly choppy and prompted many of the big swings in the market throughout the week.