U.S. stocks sank Thursday as investors weighed the potential economic costs of the Federal Reserve’s ongoing fight with inflation.
The S&P 500 fell by 3.25% to 3,666.77, its lowest level since Dec. 2020. It also erased gains after rising 1.5% on Wednesday. The Nasdaq Composite plunged by more than 4%, bringing the index down by more than 30% for the year-to-date. The Dow sank by 741 points, or 2.4%, to close below 30,000 for the first time since January 2021.
Stocks, which moved initially to the upside following Fed’s first 75 basis point rate hike since 1994 on Wednesday, turned around as traders assessed the potential that the central bank’s moves to bring down inflation would trigger a deeper downturn in economic activity.
The Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) on Thursday showed the committee itself now sees a less rosy economy ahead as its continues to hike interest rates. The FOMC now anticipates the unemployment rate will come in at 3.7% by the end of this year (versus the 3.5% rate seen in March), and that real gross domestic product will rise just 1.7% (versus the 2.8% increase seen previously). The Fed also raised its forecast for the rate of core inflation at year-end and its expectation for where the Fed funds rate would end 2022.
The lowered growth outlook coupled with a more aggressive path on interest rate hikes ahead appeared to vindicate some pundit’s concerns that the Fed’s window to achieve a “soft landing” had nearly or already passed. Fed Chair Jerome Powell suggested Wednesday that a 50 or 75 basis point interest rate hike seemed most like at the central bank’s next meeting in July. While the Fed is still forecasting GDP growth will end each of 2022, 2023 and 2024 in positive territory, some suggested this may be overly optimistic.
“The Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) and Chair Powell’s presser highlighted a Committee that sees an increasingly narrow path to a soft landing, while still maintaining that as a baseline,” Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, wrote in a note….