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Wall Street’s dark day finishes with a bloodbath as the Dow falls over 1,000 points in stocks’ worst day since 2020

May 5, 2022, 5:18 PM UTC

U.S. stocks nosedived on Thursday, more than wiping out gains from Wednesday’s rally as investors continue to digest the Federal Reserve’s first half-point rate hike since 2000.

The Dow Jones industrial average sank 1,063 points or 3.12%, and the S&P 500 dropped 3.56%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq fared even worse, tumbling 4.9%.

It was the worst showing for U.S. stocks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020, when the Dow cratered 1,191 points in its largest drop since the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008. To put that in perspective, the 2020 drop may have rivaled some of the most dramatic drops from the 1929 onset of the Great Depression, although data from nearly 100 years ago is either hard to come by or not comparable.

Big tech names like Amazon and Apple were under particular pressure on Thursday, sliding 7.5% and 5.5%, respectively.

E-commerce and retail companies also experienced sharp declines as weaker-than-expected quarterly earnings furthered investors’ concerns that the e-commerce boom that has marked the pandemic is starting to wane.

Shares of eBay and Wayfair fell over 12% and 25%, respectively, while Etsy dropped 16.8%.

Fears of a U.S. recession are rising as traders worry that Fed officials may struggle to fight four-decade high inflation. 

“We are still not out of the woods yet, as there is still too much uncertainty over how the Federal Reserve’s actions will tame inflation without causing a recession,” Zach Stein, the chief investment officer of climate change-focused investment adviser Carbon Collective, told Fortune.

Stein said that investor concerns that have triggered a stock market correction in recent months—including inflation, the Russia and Ukraine war, and surging oil prices—continue to plague markets.

The Fed took a 75 basis point rate hike off the table on Wednesday, with Chair Jerome Powell noting that an aggressive rate hike of that level is “not something that the committee is actively considering” in his post-meeting press conference. 

Still, Powell promised to be “highly attentive” to inflation, arguing that bringing it down is “essential.”

The Fed chair left the possibility of further 50 basis point rate hikes in June and July open while downplaying the prospect of a 75 basis point hike, said Scott Ruesterholz, a portfolio manager at Insight Investment. For the first time in years, he told Fortune, the Fed’s “growth mandate and sensitivity to markets are taking a backseat.”

As a result, investors are now staring down the most aggressive tightening of U.S. monetary policy since 2000 as the Fed looks to reduce its nearly $9 trillion balance sheet by $95 billion a month by September.

“With CPI currently at 8.5%, many have been concerned about the Fed being well ‘behind the curve’. We can visualize this using the famous ‘Taylor Rule’, which estimates optimal policy rates,” Ruesterholz added. “Using a version that uses unemployment and core inflation as inputs, the recommended policy rate is nearly 6%, and was well higher than the Fed’s policy rate for much of 2021.”

Fed watchers (and critics) like Mohammed El-Erian have been calling on the central bank to raise rates and combat rising inflation for months, arguing a cost-of-living crisis is hurting Americans. But now that the Fed has turned more hawkish, markets are beginning to falter, only furthering the debate around the possibility of a U.S. recession.

“The case for a recession hinges on the argument that persistent inflation will force the Fed to raise rates enough to cause a recession to control it (similar to former Fed Chair Paul Volker’s fight against 1970s’ stagflation),” Ruesterholz said. “However, not only do we expect inflation to slow, we also believe that the U.S. economy remains in a good place fundamentally.”

The bond market also continued to sell-off on Thursday, pushing U.S. 10-year Treasury yields to over 3% for the first time since 2018.

The bearish turn from stocks and bonds had Maneesh Deshpande, Barclays’ head of U.S. equity strategy, arguing that cash may be the safest place for investors as market turmoil continues.

“I think the upside is limited from here,” Deshpande said in a Thursday interview with CNBC. “There’s almost nowhere to hide…ultimately, I think cash is probably the safest place right now.”

Bitcoin and other top cryptocurrencies also experienced a sharp selloff as the sector continues to trade in lockstep with stocks. The world’s leading digital asset sank 8.7% as the total cryptocurrency market cap fell roughly 7.7% to below $1.7 trillion.

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