The Dow Jones Industrial average headed for its biggest loss since 2020 on Wednesday after another major retailer warned of rising cost pressures, confirming investors’ worst fears over rising inflation and rekindling the brutal 2022 sell-off.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 1,040 points, or 3.2%, or the average’s biggest decline since October 2020. S&P 500 traded 3.6% lower, the biggest drop since June 2020. The Nasdaq Composite slipped 4.3%, the largest fall in the tech-heavy index since May 5. The selling was broad and intense on Wall Street with just 13 members of the S&P 500 in the green.
Markets returned to heavy selling after two back-to-back quarterly reports from Target and Walmart advanced investor fears of rising inflation. It’s the fifth Dow decline of more than 800 points this year, which all occurred as the stock sell-off intensified within the last one month, according to FactSet data.
“It’s clear that transportation costs matter and they’re impacting [some of] the largest companies,” said Kim Forrest, founder of Bokeh Capital. “So I think investors are scratching our heads going, ‘so, who’s next?’ And they’re giving visibility into what’s happening with the consumer.”
Target shares tumbled more than 26% Wednesday after the retailer reported first-quarter earnings that were much lower than Wall Street estimated because of higher costs for fuel and compensation. The retailer also saw lower-than-expected sales for discretionary merchandise like TVs.
The retailer’s report comes right after Walmart on Tuesday posted earnings that fell short of expectations as it too cited higher fuel and labor costs. Walmart shares ended Tuesday lower by 11%. They were down another 6% on Wednesday.
“The consumer is challenged,” said Megan Horneman, chief investment officer at Verdence Capital Advisors. “We started to see at the end of the year that consumers were turning to credit cards to pay for the rise in food prices, rise in energy prices, and that’s actually gotten much worse. … This is going to hurt those bellwether retail places and Walmart tends to be one of them.”
Other retailers took a hit on the back of Target’s quarterly earnings miss — with the SPDR S&P Retail ETF falling more than 7%. Amazon’s stock price dropped 6.6%, and Best Buy’s stock price fell more than 12%. Dollar General’s fell more than 11%, and Dollar Tree’s declined more than 16%. Shares of Macy’s dropped 10%, while shares of Kohl’s fell more than 10%.
Lowe’s shares fell more than 5% after missing sales expectations in its first quarter report as shoppers bought fewer supplies for outdoor projects.
“Any company that relies on households and discretionary purchases will likely suffer this quarter because a lot of discretionary income has been funneled to food and energy prices,” said Jack Ablin, founding partner of Cresset Capital.
TJ Maxx-parent TJX Companies bucked the overall negative trend, with shares surging 8% after the retailer reported an earnings beat.
Wednesday’s market reversal comes after shares had been mounting a comeback off the year’s lows. On Tuesday, the Dow rose 431 points, or 1.3%, while the S&P 500 gained 2% and the Nasdaq Composite climbed nearly 2.8%.
The Dow has declined for seven straight weeks, but stocks had stabilized over the previous three trading sessions. Last week, the S&P 500 fell to the brink of a bear market — or 20% below its record high.
Gas prices have steadily marched higher, contributing to inflationary pressures seen across the economy. The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline hit a record $4.567 on Wednesday, according to AAA. Prices are 48 cents more than a month ago, and $1.52 more than what consumers paid last year.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note dipped below 2.9% after briefly topping 3% on Wednesday morning.
Stocks and other risk assets have been pressured by inflation and the Federal Reserve’s attempt to tamp down price increases through rate hikes, which have led to concerns about a potential recession. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said at a Wall Street Journal conference on Tuesday that “there won’t be any hesitation” about raising rates until inflation is under control.
— CNBC’s Pippa Stevens contributed to this report.
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