Stock market plunges again
Enters 1st correction in 2 years
The rout marked a stark turnabout in investors' mood from just two weeks ago, when indexes set their latest record highs. Since then, the Dow and the Standard & Poor's 500 have fallen 10 percent, Wall Street's traditional definition of a correction.
"In January, we talked about fear of missing out. What we have now is what I call fear of getting caught," said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager with Globalt Investments.
The market began falling in the first few minutes of trading, and the pace of the declines worsened as the day wore on. Many of the companies that rose the most over the last year have borne the brunt of the selling. Facebook and Boeing have both fallen sharply.
A hint of rising inflation and interest rates last week was all it took to set off a cascade of investor angst.
After huge gains in the first weeks of this year, stocks started to tumble last Friday after the Labor Department said workers' wages grew at a fast rate in January.
That's good for the economy, but investors worried that rising wages will hurt corporate profits and could signal an increase in inflation. A pickup in inflation could prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates at a faster pace, which would act as a brake on the economy. Inflation can also send bond yields higher, which makes it more expensive for individuals, companies and even the U.S. government to borrow money.
Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist for Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said investors are worried that the higher wages could eat into corporate profits and that the Fed could "make a mistake" and raise rates too quickly.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 1,032.89 points, or 4.1 percent, to 23,860.46. Boeing, Goldman Sachs and Home Depot took some of the worst losses.
The S&P 500, the benchmark for many index funds, shed 100.66 points, or 3.8 percent, to 2,581. Even after this week's losses, the S&P 500 index is up 12.5 percent over the past year. The Nasdaq composite fell 274.82 points, or 3.9 percent, to 6,777.16.
Corrections are seen as entirely normal occurrences, and the market, currently in its second-longest bull run of all time, has not seen one in two years, an unusually long time. Many market watchers have predicted a pullback for some time, saying stock prices have become too expensive relative to company earnings.
Stocks are not falling because investors have doubts about the economy. Employers are hiring at a healthy pace, with unemployment at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. The housing industry is solid. Manufacturing is rebounding. Households and businesses are spending freely. Personal debt has lightened since the financial crisis a decade ago. And major economies around the world are growing in tandem for the first time since the Great Recession.
"If you put $100 into the market at the Jan. 26 peak, you'd still have $90," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com. "This is just some healthy, and overdue, volatility to wring out any excess."
Economies around the world are strengthening and corporate profits are on the rise. That combination usually carries stocks higher. But stock prices climbed faster than profits in recent years. Many investors justified that by pointing out that interest rates were low and few alternatives looked like better investments. If rates rise quickly, that argument becomes much less persuasive.
Martin, of Globalt Investments, said he did not see anything specific moving the market lower Thursday. He said investors are now selling because they are afraid of bigger losses if they stand pat. That's also a big change: The market has been stable in the last year because every time it inched lower, investors swooped in looking for bargains and soon sent them higher again.
"This is going to take longer to work out than people expect," he said.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil lost 64 cents, or 1 percent, to $61.15 a barrel in New York. Brent crude gave up 70 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $64.81 per barrel.
The price of gold rose $4.40, or 0.3 percent, to $1,319 an ounce. Silver rose 10 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $16.34 an ounce, and copper fell a penny to $3.08 a pound.
The dollar fell to 108.84 yen from 109.42 yen. The euro slipped to $1.2263 from $1.2276.
Stocks in Europe declined and bond yields increased after the Bank of England said it could raise interest rates in coming months because of the strong global economy. That also sent the pound higher. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.5 percent and the French CAC 40 lost 2 percent. Germany's DAX declined 2.6 percent.
Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.83 percent from 2.84 percent. The yield on the 10-year note was as low as 2.04 percent as recently as September.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index rose 1.1 percent. South Korea's Kospi gained 0.5 percent and the Hang Seng of Hong Kong rose 0.4 percent.
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