Wall Street hit the brakes today, a day after its remarkable, weekslong rally brought the S&P 500 back to positive for the year and the Nasdaq to a record high.
The S&P 500 was down 0.5% in afternoon trading, after earlier being down as much as 1.2%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 232 points, or 0.8%, to 27,344, and the Nasdaq composite was up 0.5%, on track for an all-time high.
Skeptics have been saying for weeks that Wall Street’s huge rally, which reached 44.5% between late March and Monday, may have been overdone. The economy has given glimmers of hope that the recession could end relatively quickly as governments lift their lockdown orders, but the stock market has been soaring much more quickly than the economy and corporate profits are expected to.
“We’re seeing a little bit of a pause and a little bit of a reversal,” said Bill Northey, senior investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “Some of that is an appropriate reconciliation with the pace for the restart.”
European stock markets closed broadly lower. Germany’s DAX lost 1.6% after the country reported that its exports fell by a quarter in April. France’s CAC 40 also slid 1.6%, and the FTSE 100 in London dropped 2.1%. Asian markets ended mixed.
In another sign of increased caution, the yield on the 10-year Treasury yield fell to 0.83% from 0.88% late Monday. It tends to move with investors’ expectations of the economy and inflation, though it’s still well above the 0.64% level where it started last week.
Oil prices were mixed. Benchmark U.S. crude oil for July delivery rose 2% to settle at $38.94 a barrel. Brent crude oil for August delivery rose 0.9% to $41.18 a barrel.
Wall Street has been generally rising since late March, at first on relief following emergency rescues by the Federal Reserve and Congress. More recently, investors have begun piling into companies that would benefit most from a reopening economy that’s growing again.
Banks, airlines, energy companies and others whose profits need the economy to get closer to normal have been leading the way in recent weeks. They got a big boost on Friday when the government said that employers surprisingly added jobs to their payrolls last month, a sign that the economy could pull out of the recession that began in February relatively quickly.
But such companies went into reverse on Tuesday. American Airlines and Alaska Air Group both fell more than 8% for some of the sharpest losses in the S&P 500, a day after they were near the top of the leaderboard.
Stocks in the energy, financial and industrial sectors fell more than the rest of the market, also mirroring their performance from a day before. Technology and communication services stocks were among the gainers.
Smaller stocks also pulled back following a furious run. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks fell 1.2%, after a 10.2% rally in a little more than a week.
Meanwhile, shares in electric car and solar panel maker Tesla were within striking distance of a record closing price for the second straight day Tuesday. The stock closed Monday at a record $949.92, and traded above that at times on Tuesday. The previous record close was $917.42 on Feb. 19. Tesla shares have more than doubled in value so far this year.
Skeptics of the market’s rally have been saying that many risks still lurk ahead on the long road to a full recovery. Chief among them is the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus infections, which could lead states across the country and nations around the world to tighten up on lockdown measures that could again choke the economy. Plus, one month of improving jobs data does not necessarily mean a trend.
Investors have grown to expect negative economic data, given the impact of the coronavirus lockdown, and are more likely to react to unexpected positive news, like Friday’s surprising jobs report, said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA.
“Unless — since so many states are now reopening — we start to see a pretty sharp upward tick in virus cases,” he said. “Then, I think, Wall Street starts to worry that the government will start leaning toward shutting down once again.”
The next big milestone for markets is coming Wednesday, when the Federal Reserve announces its decision on monetary policy following a two-day meeting. The Fed’s promise of immense, unprecedented amounts of aid helped stocks begin their rally, and investors want to see what their reaction will be to the recent upturn in jobs numbers.