Market Snapshot: Why is the stock market falling? Dow drops nearly 900 points as investors weigh Fed’s policy path, earnings

United States

U.S. stocks fell sharply Friday, as investors continued to weigh hawkish comments on interest rates by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell a day earlier, as well as a fresh batch of corporate earnings that largely disappointed.

How are stocks trading?
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -2.06% was down 701 points, or 2%, at 34,092, after dropping more than 750 points at its session low.
  • The S&P 500 SPX, -2.06% fell 87 points, or 2%, to 4,306, and was on track for a third straight weekly fall.
  • The Nasdaq Composite COMP, -1.89% shed 243 points, or 1.8%, to trade at 12,932.

On Thursday, the Dow shed 368.03 points, or 1.1%, reversing a gain of as much as 331.43 points in intraday trading. The more-than 700-point intraday swing was its biggest since March 8, according to Dow Jones Market Data. The S&P 500 fell 1.5%, while the Nasdaq Composite slumped 2.1%.

What’s driving the market?

Stock-market weakness picked up Friday where Thursday’s selloff left off, when equities tumbled into the afternoon after Powell added his support for moving faster on raising interest rates to cool inflation, measures that would include a possible 50 basis point interest rate hike in May.

“It would seem investors have been too complacent about the upcoming [Fed] meeting, which will need to change,” said Michael Kramer, founder of Mott Capital, in a note.

The Cboe Volatility Index VIX, +24.07%, an options-based measure of expected volatility over the next 30 days, had been too low heading into the May 3-4 Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC, meeting, Kramer said. It rose Thursday and was up another 19.5% at 27.1- on Friday, moving above its long-term average just below 20.

Powell’s remarks appeared to make a half percentage point rate hike the base case, with the central bank also likely to announce the beginning of the unwinding of its balance sheet, Kramer said.

“A rising VIX will weigh on stocks,” he said. “If we are entering the time where people start putting hedges back on, the market has further to fall.”

Meanwhile, traders of fed funds futures have priced in a 94% chance that the Federal Reserve will deliver a 75 basis point rate hike in June, up from 70% on Thursday and 28% a week ago, according to the CME FedWatch Tool. 

The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield  TMUBMUSD10Y, 2.887%, meanwhile, pulled back slightly to around 2.91% after climbing about 8.1 basis points to 2.917% on Thursday, the highest since Dec. 4, 2018.

Read: How to invest as inflation, higher interest rates and war roil markets

And some are warning that the Nasdaq is looking particularly vulnerable. The week has delivered some big earnings news for the technology sector, with investors cheering Thursday’s results from Tesla TSLA, +0.27%, on the heels of deeply disappointing Netflix NFLX, -0.93% results.

“The technical situation looks suddenly far more bearish today [Friday] for equities after yesterday’s powerful selloff, which took the Nasdaq-100 NDX, -1.93% below the prior pivot low, possibly opening up for a run into the ultimate pivot low just below 13,000 from early March,” said strategists at Saxo Bank in a note.

All 11 major S&P 500 sectors fell Friday, with healthcare stocks dropping the most after a downbeat profit forecast from HCA Healthcare Inc. HCA, -20.68% sent its shares tumbling. Other hospital operators, including Tenet Healthcare Corp. THC, -13.99%, Community Health Systems Inc. CYH, -17.62% and Universal Health Services UHS, -12.57% also fell between 10.4% and 13.2%.

However, of the 99 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings for the first quarter, 77.8% of them have beat market expectations. Typically, 66% of companies beat estimates, according to Refinitiv data.

“Investors appear to be moving away from the TINA (There is no Alternative) narrative as of late when it comes to equities,” said  Brian Price, Head of Investment Management for Commonwealth Financial Network. “This is the second straight week of significant outflows from equity mutual funds and days like today are unlikely to change the sentiment moving forward. The one positive takeaway may be that sentiment has become too bearish and we could see a countertrend rally at some point in the coming weeks.”

Next week will mark another big week for earnings, with 558 companies reporting, Saxo noted. “It is the big test of companies’ ability to pass on costs to their customers,” they said.

Investors may also be skittish ahead of the final round of France’s presidential election on Sunday. An upset victory by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen over incumbent Francois Macron would likely spark market volatility, analysts said.

See: Here’s how markets are positioned for Sunday’s presidential election in France between Macron and Le Pen

What companies are in focus?
  • HCA shares were down 19.6%, on pace for their largest percentage decrease since March 16, 2020, when they fell 19.02%, according to Dow Jones Market Data.
  • Gap Inc. GPS, -18.75% stock tumbled nearly 19%, following a bigger-than-expected drop in sales and as the retailer announced the depature of Old Navy CEO Nancy Green.
  • Shares of Qualtrics International Inc. XM, -9.51% fell 9.5% after the experience-management software company reported fiscal first-quarter forecast-beating revenue.
  • Snap Inc. SNAP, -0.34% shares lost 0.7% after the social media group reported quarterly revenue that fell short of Wall Street’s expectations.
  • Shares of American Express Co. AXP, -1.86% fell 1.4% after topping earnings expectations Friday amid a continued rebound in travel and strong spending trends among younger consumers.
  • Verizon Communications Inc. VZ, -5.15% fell after its earnings report showed a net loss of postpaid phone subscribers in its latest quarter, calling out “competitive dynamics within the industry,” though it said it had its best quarter of broadband net additions in more than a decade.
How are other assets trading?
  • The ICE U.S. Dollar Index  DXY, +0.61%  rose 0.7% to trade at its highest since March 2020.
  • Bitcoin  BTCUSD, -2.53% fell 2.4% to trade near $ 39,500.
  • Gold GC00, -0.78% fell $ 13.90, or 0.7%, to settle at $ 1,934.30 an ounce, leaving a 2.1% weekly fall.
  • The Stoxx Europe 600 SXXP, -1.79% dropped 1.5% while London’s FTSE 100  UKX, -1.39% fell 1.4%.
  • The Shanghai Composite  SHCOMP, +0.23%  rose 0.2%, while the Hang Seng Index  HSI, -0.21% slipped 0.2% in Hong Kong and Japan’s Nikkei 225  NIK, -1.63% fell 1%.