Wall Street retreats as rate hike concerns persist

·3 min read

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks closed lower on Monday, adding to last week's sharp losses on nagging concerns about the Federal Reserve's determination to aggressively hike interest rates to fight inflation even as the economy slows.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said on Friday the U.S. economy would need tight monetary policy "for some time" before inflation is under control, dashing hopes the Fed might pivot to more subdued rate hikes after recent data suggested price pressures were peaking.

The S&P 500 recovered from session lows that put it down 1% at the lowest in a month, but the benchmark index still notched its biggest two-day percentage decline in 2-1/2 months.

"Friday’s selloff was frankly overdone, I know (Powell) said he was going to play tough with inflation but it is honestly not that much different than what he has been saying for the last several weeks, he was a little more hawkish but I mean, geez, who is surprised by that, really?" said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.

"I don’t see a whole lot of up or downside here in the near term, I see a lot of volatility and that is probably going to be the case at the very least until we get past the September 21 rate hike."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 184.41 points, or 0.57%, to 32,098.99, the S&P 500 lost 27.05 points, or 0.67%, to 4,030.61 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 124.04 points, or 1.02%, to 12,017.67.

Megacap technology and growth stocks such as Apple Inc, off 1.37%, and Microsoft Corp, down 1.07% were among the biggest drags on the index as Treasury yields rose.

The CBOE's volatility index, Wall Street's fear gauge, hit a seven-week high of 27.67 points.

Money market traders are pricing in a 72.5% chance of a 75-basis-point interest rate hike at the Fed's September meeting, which would be the third straight hike of that magnitude. They expect the Fed funds rate to end the year at about 3.7%.

The two-year Treasury yield, which is particularly sensitive to interest rate expectations, briefly touched a 15-year high, while the closely watched yield curve measured by the gap between two and 10-year yields remained firmly inverted.

An inversion is considered by many to be a reliable signal of a looming recession.

Economic data this week is highlighted by the August nonfarm payrolls report due on Friday. Any signs of a slowdown in the labor market might take pressure off the Fed to continue with outsized rate hikes.

The S&P 500 climbed nearly 11% since mid-June through Friday's close. It recently found support just above its 50-day moving average, although it remains well below its 200-day moving average. Despite the rebound, some investors remain worried as September approaches due to the historical weakness for stocks during the month and the anticipated hike from the Fed.

Energy stocks, up 1.54% were a bright spot as crude prices jumped about 4% on possible OPEC+ output cuts and conflict in Libya.

Bristol Myers Squibb slid 6.24% after its drug candidate for preventing ischemia strokes missed the main goal in a mid-stage trial.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 9.36 billion shares, compared with the 10.59 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 2.19-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.20-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 2 new 52-week highs and 22 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 28 new highs and 199 new lows.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and David Gregorio)