Big Tech stocks burned by the downside of high expectations triggered a sharp slide for Wall Street Wednesday. The market’s losses worsened after the Federal Reserve indicated it likely won’t cut interest rates in March, as many traders had hoped.
The S&P 500 dropped 1.6 percent for its worst day since September. It veered between more modest and sharper losses through a shaky afternoon as traders delayed bets for when the Fed would begin easing its main interest rate from its highest level since 2001.
The slide for Big Tech stocks dragged the Nasdaq composite to a market-leading loss of 2.2 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which has less of an emphasis on tech, fell a more modest 0.8 percent, or 317 points.
Alphabet was one of the heaviest weights on the market, and it fell 7.5 percent despite reporting stronger profit and revenue for the latest quarter than analysts expected. Underneath the surface, analysts pointed to some concerning trends in how much Google’s parent company is earning from advertising.
The bigger challenge, though, may have been the high expectations the company faces after how much its stock soared last year. Other Big Tech stocks that also accounted for a disproportionate chunk of the S&P 500’s rally to a record likewise struggled Wednesday in the face of high expectations.
Microsoft fell 2.7 percent even though it delivered stronger profit and revenue than expected. One analyst, Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities, even called its quarterly report “a masterpiece that should be hung in the Louvre.”
Tesla, another member of the group of stocks nicknamed the “Magnificent Seven,” fell 2.2 percent. A judge in Delaware ruled a day earlier that its CEO, Elon Musk, is not entitled to the landmark compensation package earlier awarded to him.
The Magnificent Seven were responsible for the majority of the S&P 500’s return last year, and three more members are scheduled to report their latest quarter results on Thursday: Amazon, Apple and Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram. Expectations are high for them, too.
Besides the Magnificent Seven, stocks have rallied to records because of hopes that a cooldown in inflation will convince the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates several times this year. Such cuts would relax the pressure on the economy and encourage investors to pay higher prices for stocks.
But the Fed on Wednesday left its main interest rate steady and made clear it “does not expect it will be appropriate” to cut rates “until it has gained greater confidence that inflation is moving sustainably toward” its goal of 2 percent.
“We’re not declaring victory at all,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said. He said it’s unlikely the Fed will get to that level of comfort by its next meeting in March.
“It’s probably not the most likely case,” he said, which sent stocks skidding late in trading.
But Powell also said Fed officials already have some confidence that day will arrive. They just need to see more months of data confirming that inflation is heading sustainably lower. “We have confidence,” he said. “It has been increasing, but we want to get greater confidence.”
Powell acknowledged the difficult position the Fed is in, with dangers arising from both acting too quickly and too late, even though “overall it’s a good picture” for the economy at the moment. Cutting rates too soon could ignite inflationary pressures, while acting too late would mean unnecessary pain for the economy and job market.
“Given how strong the economy has been, the Fed probably figures it can err on the side of cutting later and slower than what the market is pricing,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief economist at Annex Wealth Management.
Treasury yields in the bond market swung up and down following the Fed’s announcement. They had been lower earlier following a couple softer-than-expected reports on the economy.
One report said that growth in pay and benefits for U.S. workers was slower in the final three months of 2023 than economists expected. While all workers would like bigger raises, the cooler-than-expected data could further calm what was one of the Fed’s big fears: that too-big pay gains would trigger a vicious cycle that ends up keeping inflation high.
A separate report from the ADP Research Institute also suggested hiring by non-government employers was softer in January than economists expected. The Fed and Wall Street are hoping that the job market cools by just the right amount, enough to keep a lid on inflation but not so much that it causes a recession. A more comprehensive jobs report from the U.S. government will arrive Friday.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 3.92 percent from 4.04 percent late Tuesday. In October, it was above 5 percent and at its highest level since 2007.
All told, the S&P 500 fell 79.32 points to 4,845.65. The Dow dropped 317.07 to 38,150.30, and the Nasdaq slumped 345.89 to 15,164.01.
In stock markets abroad, indexes slumped sharply again in China amid continued worries about a weak economic recovery and troubles for the country’s heavily indebted property developers.
Stocks were mixed elsewhere in Asia and down modestly in Europe. (AP)