Stocks plunged again Thursday in another market rout despite attempts by Federal Reserve officials to calm nervous investors.
The Dow is now down 10% from the record high it hit in late January — the level considered a market correction. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the technology-focused Nasdaq composite closed Thursday near correction levels as well.
“Corrections normally can take weeks to develop, and this clearly developed in a few days,” said Brett F. Ewing, chief market strategist at research firm First Franklin Financial Services.
“I would tell the average person to stay calm, do not react, especially off your emotions watching this right now,” he said. “When people go through extended periods of low volatility and they see this, it can make it feel even bigger than it really is. The underlying fundamentals of the economy are really strong.”
But it’s that strength, particularly rising wages in a tight labor market, that is driving fears that interest rates will start rising more quickly than anticipated to keep the economy from overheating.
Although key Fed policymakers said in recent days that the market movements haven’t altered their plans, another influential central bank — the Bank of England — indicated Thursday that it could hike rates sooner and more frequently than previously anticipated.
Rising bond prices make the securities relatively more attractive for investors prompting some to sell their stocks.
The Dow dropped 1,032.89 points Thursday, it’s second-largest point drop, to 23,860. The largest point drop was just three days ago, when the Dow plunged 1,175 points.
But because the Dow has reached such high levels, the percentage drops are well below those seen in the 2008 financial crisis and other market crashes. Thursday’s decline was 4.2%.
The S&P 500 dropped 3.8%, and the Nasdaq was down 3.9%.
All three major indexes are down for 2018 after starting the year strongly amid optimism about the recently enacted federal tax cuts.
“We haven’t seen volatility like this certainly in the past two years,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at brokerage firm Commonwealth Financial Network. He said the declines are part of a normal adjustment in stock prices to reflect growing inflation concerns after a long stretch in which the indexes set record high after record high.
“All of a sudden, investors as a group realized that the risk is there, and they’re adjusting price to reflect that,” he said. “I think it’s a healthy development.”
Stronger economic growth, fueled in part by the large tax cuts that kicked in Jan. 1 , along with a bipartisan federal budget deal struck by Senate leaders this week that would boost spending, has led to fears that interest rates will rise more quickly than anticipated to head off inflation.
The Republican tax cut bill already was set to push the federal budget deficit close to $1 trillion in the 2018 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, and the new two-year budget deal will propel it higher.
Increased federal borrowing drives up interest rates on bonds. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury bond was up Thursday to 2.83%, near a four-year high.
William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, sought to downplay the recent market moves, calling them “small potatoes.”
“The little decline that we’ve had in the equity market today has virtually no implications for the economic outlook,” Dudley, who is vice chairman of the Fed’s rate-setting committee, told Bloomberg TV.
He said the Fed’s most recent forecast, in December, of three more small increases in the central bank’s benchmark short-term interest rate “still seems like a very reasonable projection,” he said.
His comments came after another member of the Fed’s committee said Wednesday night that he also was still anticipating a gradual increase in interest rates.
“At this point, I don’t see any of the movements in asset prices of late to fundamentally change my view of the economy,” John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, told reporters after a speech in Hawaii.
“I think the economy is on a very solid growth path,” he said. “In fact, I think some of the market reaction is to the fact that the economy is doing well.”
Still, after a long streak of record-breaking stock market gains, pessimism is growing.
The percentage of individual investors expecting stock prices to drop is at a three-month high of 35%, according to weekly survey results released Thursday by the American Assn. of Individual Investors. The figure increased 7.7% from the previous week and had been only 16% at the start of the year.
President Trump frequently has touted the rising stock market as a sign his economic policies are working. As stocks declined sharply this week, Trump tweeted his frustration on Wednesday that “when good news is reported, the Stock Market goes down.”
He said that was a “big mistake” because “we have so much good (great) news about the economy!”
The White House echoed those sentiments Thursday afternoon as stocks tanked again.
“The president, like the rest of the White House, is concerned about long-term economic indicators … and the fundamentals, in terms of the long-term, are very strong,” said Raj Shah, principal deputy White House press secretary.
But another financial fundamental is that stock prices can’t keep going up forever.
Before the recent downturn began last week, the Dow had gone 417 days without a 5% drop, the longest such stretch since 1928, Ewing said.
“Last year was an anomaly, having 12 months with no down months,” he said. “This is more normal than last year.”
The markets could decline another 7% to 10% if credit starts tightening, Ewing said.
“This volatility could easily continue into next week,” he said, but then predicted the indexes would bounce back and reach new highs by the end of the year.