U.S. stocks plunge, then recover as wild ride continues

Tuesday, February 06, 2018 11:49AM
The stock market recovered after an early plunge Tuesday and was little changed in morning trading, raising hopes of a halt to a global sell-off in stock markets. The swings came one day after the steepest drop in 6 ½ years.


NEW YORK - The stock market recovered after an early plunge Tuesday and was little changed in morning trading, raising hopes of a halt to a global sell-off in stock markets. The swings came one day after the steepest drop in 6 years.

Major indexes in Asia and Europe fell following Monday's 1,175-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average. Investors remain fearful that signs of rising inflation and higher interest rates could bring an end to the bull market that has sent stocks to record high after record high in recent years.

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Trading was choppy in the early going Tuesday, likely to be one of the most watched days on the markets in years.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell as much as 567 points shortly after the opening bell, then jumped as much as 367 points in the first half-hour of trading.

The Dow was little changed at 24,334 as of 10:49 a.m. The Standard & Poor's 500 index, a broader market barometer that many index funds track, was down 6 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,641. The Nasdaq composite was down 9 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,966.

The steep drops Friday and Monday erased the gains the Dow and S&P 500 made since the beginning of the year, but both remain higher over the past 12 months. The Dow is still up 20 percent over that time, the S&P 500 15 percent.

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After the sharp losses over the past three days, the S&P 500 is down 8.5 percent from the most recent record high it set on January 26. That's less than the 10 percent drop that is known on Wall Street as a "correction."

Corrections are seen as entirely normal during bull markets, and even helpful in removing speculative froth and allowing new investors to buy into the market at lower prices. The last time the market had a correction was two years ago, which is seen as an uncommonly long time.

In Tuesday's trading, high-dividend companies including utility and real estate companies fell, as bond yields increased after a sharp drop on Monday. Technology and industrial companies and retailers moved higher, a possible sign of confidence the U.S. economy will keep growing.

The market mood turned decidedly fearful on Monday when the Dow Jones industrial average posted its biggest percentage decline since August 2011, driven by fears the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates faster than expected due to a pick-up in wages. Those stemmed from the U.S. jobs report on Friday.

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That has fed into widespread concerns that markets were stretched following a strong run over the past year that pushed many indexes to record highs. Some also question the possible role of computer-driven algorithmic trading in the precipitous declines or even the ramifications of the rise and fall in the value of virtual currencies, notably bitcoin.

"If investors look at underlying earnings growth and the fundamentals of the global economy, there is reason for optimism," said Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital.

"However once this kind of stampede starts it's hard to stop."

Among the biggest losers Tuesday was Tokyo's Nikkei 225 stock average, which ended 4.7 percent lower. Hong Kong's Hang Seng skidded 5.1 percent and South Korea's Kospi declined 1.5 percent.

In Europe, the British FTSE 100 index fell 1.6 percent while the CAC 40 in France fell 1.9 percent and Germany's DAX was down 1.8 percent. All three were lower earlier.

Though many stock indexes are close to where they started the year, the losses mark a reversal of fortune following a sustained period of gains, a pullback that some market pros have been predicting for some time.

Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and CEO of financial firm Blackstone, warned recently of a potential "reckoning" in markets.

"Seemingly the only hope for the markets at the moment is that investors suddenly decide that the sell-off has been a bit overdone," said Connor Campbell, a financial analyst at Spreadex.

Despite the sea of red in global stock markets, there are hopes that the retreat won't last long given that global economic growth has picked up and the financial system is more robust since the financial crisis.

"That is not to say that we won't see further falls in coming days, but in an environment where growth is good and earnings are expected to rise globally, there are decent underpinnings," said James Knightley, chief international economist at ING.

On Monday, the Dow finished down 4.6 percent while the S&P 500 sank 4.1 percent, to 2,648.94. The last fall of that size came in August 2011 when investors were fretting over Europe's debt crisis and the debt ceiling impasse in Washington that prompted a U.S. credit rating downgrade.

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