NEW YORK, March 11— Wall Street resumed its sell-off on Thursday, closing lower as inflation hit a four-decade high, cementing expectations that the US Federal Reserve would hike key interest rates at the conclusion of next week’s monetary policy meeting to prevent the economy from overheating.
Looming uncertainties surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also helped convince market participants to recommence their flight to safety.
All three major indexes ended in the red, though well off session lows, as the US equities market followed its best day in months on Wednesday by renewing a multi-session sell-off during which the tech-heavy Nasdaq confirmed it is in a bear market.
“It’s more of the same,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago, noting that the equity market’s daily volatility is “being driven more by geopolitical than economic news.”
Consumer prices surged in February to a 7.9 per cent annual growth rate, according to the Labor Department, the hottest reading in forty years.
“The (CPI) print was not far off estimates,” Nolte added. “There will be more to come in the next month or two as some of the rising commodity prices get incorporated.”
While the market fully expects the central bank to raise the Fed funds target rate by 25 basis points at the conclusion of next week’s monetary policy meeting, the CPI data suggested the FOMC could move “more aggressively” to curb inflation in the upcoming year, as promised by Fed Chair Jerome Powell last week.
“It’s still expected the Fed will raise rates four to seven times in the next year or two to curb economic growth,” Nolte said, adding that “what complicates this, is the Fed has never raised rates with the yield curve this flat and volatility so high.”
“They’re trying to increase rates at a time when the market is in turmoil.”
The graphic below shows annual core CPI growth, along with other indicators, and how far they have soared above the Fed’s average annual inflation target:
Energy prices were the main culprit, with gasoline prices surging 6.6 per cent in a single month, although the report did not reflect the entirety of spiking crude prices in the wake of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Those actions kept geopolitical jitters at a full boil, with peace talks showing little progress even as a humanitarian crisis unfolds and world oil supply pressures continued to weigh on global markets.
Amazon.com provided one of the day’s bright spots, its shares surging after the e-commerce giant announced a 20-for-1 stock split and a US$10 billion share buyback.
According to preliminary data, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 18.69 points, or 0.44 per cent, to end at 4,259.19 points, while the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC lost 126.81 points, or 0.96 per cent, to 13,128.73. The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 112.01 points, or 0.34 per cent, to 33,174.24.
Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, tech .SPLRCT suffered the biggest percentage drop, while energy shares were up most.
The NYSE FANG+ index .NYFANG of market leading tech and tech-adjacent megacaps plunged on the day.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc lost ground after announcing it would became the first major US investment bank to close its operations in Russia.
The S&P 500 banking index .SPXBK underperformed the broader market. — Reuters