Stocks eke out a gain but still mark worst week since 2020

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Stocks suffered several massive drops this week as markets get accustomed to the bitter medicine of higher interest rates that the Federal Reserve and other central banks are using in their battle against inflation. (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

Wall Street closed out its most punishing week since the 2020 coronavirus crash with a meandering day of trading Friday that left it a bit higher.

The S&P 500 rose 8.07 points, or 0.2%, to 3,674.84 after waffling between modest losses and gains for most of the day. The Dow Jones industrial average dipped 38.29, or 0.1%, to 29,888.78, while the Nasdaq composite climbed 152.25, or 1.4%, to 10,798.35.

The relatively quiet trading capped a brutal, tumultuous week for Wall Street. The S&P 500 lost 5.8% for its 10th drop in the last 11 weeks. That’s its worst week since March 2020, when stocks were in free-fall as the global economy suddenly shut down at the onset of the pandemic.

Markets around the world have been shuddering as investors adjust to the bitter medicine of higher interest rates that the Federal Reserve and other central banks are increasingly doling out. Higher rates can bring down inflation, but they also risk a recession by slowing the economy and push down on prices for stocks, bonds, cryptocurrencies and other investments.

“Any lack of clarity or lack of confidence in the Federal Reserve is going to create a lot of volatility in the market,” said Megan Horneman, chief investment officer at Verdence Capital Advisors.

The S&P 500 remains in a bear market after it earlier this week dropped more than 20% below its record. It’s now 23.4% below its all-time high set in January and is back to where it was in late 2020.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now about the timing of a recession, but the risks are clearly rising,” Horneman said.

On Wednesday, the Fed hiked its key short-term interest rate by triple the usual amount for its biggest increase since 1994. It could consider another such mega-hike at its next meeting in July, but Fed Chair Jerome Powell said increases of three-quarters of a percentage point would not be common.

The Fed has also just begun allowing some of the trillions of dollars of bonds it purchased through the pandemic to roll off its balance sheet. That should put upward pressure on longer-term interest rates and is another way central banks are yanking supports earlier propped underneath markets to bolster the economy.

The Fed’s moves are happening as some discouraging signals have emerged about the economy, even if the jobs market remains solid. The latest was a report on Friday showing the nation’s industrial production was weaker last month than expected. Other disappointing data, including sagging spending at retailers and soured consumer sentiment, have raised concerns the Fed’s actions could wind up being too aggressive.

Powell will testify before Congress this upcoming week on monetary policy, and what he says is sure to guide trading. The testimony is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, which could mean more steep swings for Wall Street.

In the six days since a game-changing report showed U.S. inflation is accelerating, not easing as investors had hoped, the S&P 500 has had three days where it tumbled at least 2.9%. That’s happened only five other times total in the last year.

For Friday at least, trading was calm as Treasury yields eased further from their highest levels in more than a decade and a measure of nervousness on Wall Street sank.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury pulled back to 3.23% from 3.30% late Thursday and from a peak of nearly 3.50% earlier in the week.

Higher yields have been pounding all kinds of investments this year, but the harshest pain has hit cryptocurrencies, high-growth technology stocks and others that flew the highest in the earlier, easier days of ultralow rates.

Gains for technology stocks on Friday helped the Nasdaq lead the market. Amazon climbed 2.5%, and Nvidia rose 1.8%.

Other stocks hit particularly hard Thursday on worries about a possible recession and inflation overwhelming consumers also bounced back. Norwegian Cruise Line rose 10.1%, and American Airlines Group gained 6.4%. Both were still down more than 12% for the week, though.

Stocks of smaller companies, which tend to move more with expectations for the strength of the U.S. economy, also did better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index of smaller stocks rose 15,86, or 1%, to 1,665.69. But it also was still down much more for the week at 7.5% than the broader market.

U.S. markets will be closed Monday in observance of the Juneteenth holiday.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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