Stocks slipped on Wall Street Thursday as global markets remain choppy amid uncertainty about where inflation, interest rates and the global economy are heading.
The S&P 500 slumped 1.2% in morning trading, on pace for its fifth drop in the last six days. It marks another reversal for U.S. stocks, which just a day earlier surged to their biggest gain since June 2020 when a tumble for oil prices seemed to take pressure off the world’s already high inflation.
Oil prices had their own swings Thursday morning, with a barrel of U.S. crude jumping as much as 5.7%, before flip-flopping between gains and losses. It was recently at $110.67, up 1.9%. Recent surges for energy prices have raised the risk that the economy is set to struggle under a toxic cocktail of persistently high inflation and slowing growth.
Oil’s back-and-forth moves were just some of the waves of reports buffeting markets worldwide. The European Central Bank said high inflation will push it to wrap up its bond-buying program meant to boost its economy faster than expected. In the U.S., a report showed that consumer prices leaped 7.9% in February from a year earlier. It’s the sharpest spike since 1982, though the reading was largely within expectations.
Altogether, the forces caused a reversal for many of the market’s moves from a day before.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 309 points, or 0.9%, to 32,978, as of 10:35 a.m. Eastern time. The Nasdaq composite was 1.7% lower.
European stocks were hit even harder, with Germany’s DAX losing 1.6% and France’s CAC 40 down 1.7%. Asian stocks earlier in the day mostly rose.
Such swings have become common in recent weeks, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raises worries about how high prices will go for oil, wheat and other commodities produced in the region. Markets were already on edge before the war began because high inflation is pushing central banks to raise interest rates for the first time in years and halt programs launched to support the global economy after the pandemic struck.
Analysts said the U.S. inflation report, while eye-popping, likely wouldn’t have much of an effect on markets. The 7.9% leap was exactly what economists were forecasting. If anything, it may have offered some relief because it didn’t hit the 8% threshold that could feel even worse.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which tracks expectations for inlation and economic growth, slumped immediately after the inflation report’s release but then wavered. It was recently at 1.99%, up from 1.94% late Wednesday.
The two-year Treasury yield, which moves more on expectations of what the Federal Reserve will do with short-term interest rates, was at 1.71%, up from 1.68%.
The wide expectation is that the Fed will raise its key short-term rate by a quarter of a percentage point next week, which woudl be the first since 2018. The recent surge for commodity prices has complicated its pathway to raising interest rates enough to stamp out high inflation withough tipping the economy into a recession.
Brent crude, the international standard, rose 1.2% to $112.47 per barrel. Both it and U.S. benchmark oil are up more than 44% for 2022 so far, though they remain below the peaks they hit earlier this week. U.S. oil briefly topped $130.
Continued market volatility is likely in the days ahead as the conflict rages in Ukraine. Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers are meeting in Turkey for talks.
“Markets seem to have latched onto a couple of slightly less dismal clues as an excuse to rally hard,” said ING economists in a report. “The basis for that optimism — it’s actually pretty thin.”