Stocks fell on Friday, capping their worst week of the year, as investors balk at fresh government data that added to a series of signs showing a pickup in inflation.
The S&P 500 was down 1.1 percent by the end of the trading day, adding to losses from earlier in the week and marking a third straight week of declines.
This came in a short week, with markets closed Monday for the President’s Day holiday. Tuesday’s trading marked the worst single day for the S&P 500 since mid-December, which helped push the index to its worst weekly performance of the year: a 2.7 percent drop.
The market shift this month came along with a sharp reassessment among investors about what the Federal Reserve needs to do to bring down inflation, and the damage it could do to businesses, consumers and the economy.
Stock markets rebounded during January as investors pinned their hopes on the Fed’s possible halt in interest rate hikes, after a sustained period of slowing inflation at the end of last year.
But that hope has been dashed in recent weeks by data showing employers kept hiring, consumers kept spending, and inflation was accelerating again. On Friday, the latest reading of the personal consumption expenditures price index, which the Fed tracks closely, showed inflation accelerating faster than expected in January.
“I think the market reaction we’re seeing indicates very clearly that investors think the Fed has more work to do,” said Liz Ann Saunders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab.
The Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates for nearly a year, as it seeks to slow the economy and ease inflation. Higher interest rates also increase costs for companies, which usually affects share prices.
Investors have ramped up their expectations for how often the Fed will raise interest rates, and this week it boosted expectations of a three-quarter-point rate hike at the next three central bank meetings. At the beginning of the month, investors expected only one increase at the meeting in March. They’ve even started pricing in the possibility that the Fed will make a bigger hike in March by half a point.
In response, bond yields rose, with the two-year Treasury yield, a measure of government borrowing costs sensitive to changes in Fed policy, reaching a post-pandemic peak on Friday. The yield rose by more than a tenth of a percentage point, to 4.81 percent, its highest level since 2007. That was a big move for an asset that typically goes up and down a hundred points each day.
The 10-year Treasury yield, which supports borrowing costs around the world, is close to 4 percent, a limit it has not risen above since November last year.
Amid the volatility, investors pulled money out of the markets, pulling nearly $9 billion from funds that bought US stocks in the seven days through Wednesday, according to data from EPFR Global. This has brought inflows from US stocks over the past three weeks to nearly $19 billion.
The selling has been widespread, with every sector of the S&P 500 seeing losses so far this month. Technology stocks, which are particularly sensitive to changes in interest rates, outperformed at the start of the year, but that has started to turn around recently. On Friday, the sector was down more than 1.8 percent, underperforming the broader market.
“The tug-of-war between bulls and bears has temporarily swung in favor of the bears,” said Mark Hackett, head of investment research at Nationwide.
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