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NEW YORK — Wall Street tumbled into what’s called a bear market June 13 after fears about a fragile economy and rising interest rates sent the S&P 500 more than 20% below its record set early this year.
The index sank 3.9% in the first chance for investors to trade after getting the weekend to reflect on the news that inflation is getting worse, not better. The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly was down more than 1,000 points before finishing with a loss of 876.
At the center of the sell-off again was the Federal Reserve, which is scrambling to get inflation under control. Its main method to do that is to raise interest rates to slow the economy, a blunt tool that risks a recession if used too aggressively.
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With the Fed seemingly pinned into having to get more aggressive, prices fell in a worldwide rout for everything from bonds to bitcoin, from New York to New Zealand. Some of the sharpest drops hit what had been big winners of the easier low-rate era, such as high-growth technology stocks and other former darlings of investors. Tesla slumped 7.1%, and Amazon dropped 5.5%. GameStop tumbled 8.4%.
“The best thing people can do is to not panic and don’t sell at the bottom,” said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at the Schwab Center for Financial Research, “and we’re probably not at the bottom.”
Some economists are speculating the Fed on June 15 may raise its key rate by three-quarters of a percentage point. That’s triple the usual amount and something the Fed hasn’t done since 1994. Traders now see a 28% probability of such a mega-hike, up from just 3% a week ago, according to CME Group.
No one thinks the Fed will stop there, with markets bracing for a continued series of bigger-than-usual hikes. Those would come on top of some discouraging signals about the economy and corporate profits, including a record-low preliminary reading on consumer sentiment soured by high gasoline prices.
The economy is still holding up overall, but the danger is that the job market and other factors are so hot that they will feed into higher inflation. That’s why the Fed is in the midst of a whiplash pivot away from the record-low interest rates it engineered earlier in the pandemic, which propped up stocks and other investments amid hopes of juicing the economy.
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Wall Street’s sobering realization that inflation is accelerating, not peaking, is also sending U.S. bond yields to their highest levels in more than a decade. The two-year Treasury yield shot to 3.36% from 3.06% late June 10 in its second straight major move. It earlier touched its highest level since 2007, according to Tradeweb.
The 10-year yield jumped to 3.37% from 3.15%, and the higher level will make mortgages and many other kinds of loans more expensive. It touched its highest level since 2011.
The higher yields mean prices are tumbling for bonds, a relatively rare occurrence for them in recent decades. They’re also a particularly painful hit for older and more conservative investors who depend on them as the safer parts of their nest eggs.
The coronavirus crash in early 2020 was Wall Street’s last bear market, and it was an unusually short one that lasted only about a month. The S&P 500 got close to a bear market last month, but it didn’t finish a day below the 20% threshold.
AP Business Writers Damian J. Troise and Elaine Kurtenbach contributed.