Stocks fell sharply on Tuesday after a key August inflation report came in hotter than expected, hurting investor optimism for cooling prices and a less aggressive Federal Reserve.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 861 points, or 2.7%. The S&P 500 dropped 3%, and the Nasdaq Composite sank 3.9%. More than 490 stocks in the S&P 500 fell, with Facebook-parent Meta dropping 7.6% and Caesars Entertainment losing 6.7%.
The drop erased a large chunk of the recent rally for stocks, but the S&P 500 is still up about 2% from its Sept. 6 close of 3,908 and comfortably above its mid-June levels, when it fell below 3,700.
“The velocity of this move has been breathtaking, however the market has recovered substantially off of recent lows. That this 4,000 level is still holding for the S&P 500 does reveal the fact that markets are bothered, but markets are not panicking,” said Jeff Kilburg, founder and CEO of KKM Financial.
The August consumer price index report showed a higher-than-expected reading for inflation. Headline inflation rose 0.1% month over month, even with falling gas prices. Core inflation rose 0.6% month over month. On a year-over-year basis, inflation was 8.3%.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting a decline of 0.1% for overall inflation, with a rise of 0.3% for core inflation.
The report is one of the last the Fed will see ahead of their Sept. 20-21 meeting, where the central bank is expected to deliver their third consecutive 0.75 percentage point interest rate hike to tamp down inflation. The unexpectedly high August report could lead the Fed to continue its aggressive hikes longer than some investors anticipated.
The moves comes after four straight positive sessions for U.S. stocks, which were bolstered in part by the belief of many investors that inflation had already peaked.
“The CPI report was an unequivocal negative for equity markets. The hotter than expected report means we will get continued pressure from Fed policy via rate hikes,” said Matt Peron, director of research at Janus Henderson Investors. “It also pushes back any ‘Fed pivot’ that the markets were hopeful for in the near term. As we have cautioned over the past months, we are not out of the woods yet and would maintain a defensive posture with equity and sector allocations.”
The sell-off was particularly painful in high-growth tech stocks. Cloudflare fell about 10%, while Unity Software sank more than 11%. Shares of direct-to-consumer auto retailer Carvana slid more than 12%, making it one of the worst performers on the New York Stock Exchange.