Stocks dropped on Friday, pushing the S&P 500 into a bear market for the first time since early in the pandemic, as investors feared the effects of higher inflation, rising interest rates and the risk of a recession.
The S&P 500 was down about 1.6 percent in intraday trading, pushing the benchmark index into bear market territory, a Wall Street term for a 20 percent decline from a recent peak — in this case, since Jan. 3. It is a symbolically important marker of investor pessimism, and the index would have to close the day at this level to officially enter a bear market.
The S&P 500 is also on track for its seventh consecutive weekly decline, an unusually long losing streak.
The pessimism in Wall Street has been prompted by fears about stubbornly high inflation and the Federal Reserve’s plans to increase interest rates in response, which could tip the economy into recession. The pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and lockdowns in China have added to these concerns.
Downbeat earnings reports from bellwether retailers like Walmart and Target this week have dragged down markets, stoking fears that high inflation may be making consumers, who power the US economy, more cautious.
“The reality is the market is likely to remain under pressure until peak inflation has been priced in,” Fiona Cincotta, a senior financial markets analyst at Forex.com wrote in a research note. “We aren’t there yet.”
Since World War II, bear markets have almost always been closely accompanied by recessions, with a few exceptions, like the stock market crash of 1987. But there are recent examples of markets brushing close to a bear market when a recession never resulted, according to LPL Financial. The S&P 500 came within a percentage point of the bear-market threshold in 1998, 2011 and 2018 but never tipped over the line.