NEW YORK — Wall Street is drifting around its worst levels in almost two years Friday as the end nears for what’s been a miserable month for markets around the world.
The S&P 500 was virtually unchanged in midday trading after flipping between small losses and gains through the morning. It’s hovering around its lowest level since November 2020, and it’s on pace to close out its sixth weekly loss in the last seven, one of its worst months since the early 2020 coronavirus crash and its third straight losing quarter.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 95 points, or 0.3%, at 29,130, as of noon Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.4% higher.
The main reason for this year’s struggles for financial markets has been fear about a possible recession, as interest rates soar in hopes of beating down the high inflation that’s swept the world.
The Federal Reserve has been at the forefront of the global campaign to slow economic growth and hurt job markets just enough to undercut inflation but not so much that it causes a recession. More data arrived Friday to suggest the Fed will keep its foot firmly on the brakes on the economy, raising the risk of its going too far and causing a downturn.
The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation showed prices rising even faster than economists expected last month, while spending by consumers rebounded. That should keep the Fed on track to keep raising rates and hold them at high levels a while, as it’s loudly and repeatedly promised to do.
Vice Chair Lael Brainard was the latest Fed official on Friday to insist it won’t pull back on rates prematurely. That helped to keep snuffed out hopes on Wall Street for a “pivot” toward easier rates as the economy slows.
“At this point, it’s not a matter of if we’ll have a recession, but what type of recession it will be,” said Sean Sun, portfolio manager at Thornburg Investment Management.
Higher interest rates knock down one of the main levers that set prices for stocks. The other also looks to be under threat as the slowing economy, high interest rates and other factors weigh on corporate profits.
Nike slumped 11.8% in what could be its worst day in two decades after it said its profitability weakened during the summer because of discounts needed to clear suddenly overstuffed warehouses. The amount of shoes and gear in Nike’s inventories swelled by 44% from a year earlier. This year’s powerful surge for the U.S. dollar against other currencies also hurt the company. Its worldwide revenue rose only 4%, instead of the 10% it would have if currency values had remained the same.
Nike isn’t the only company to see its inventories balloon. So have several big-name retailers, and such bad news for businesses could actually mean some relief for shoppers if it leads to more discounts. It echoed some glimmers of encouragement buried within Friday’s report on the Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation. That showed some slowing of inflation for goods, even as price gains kept accelerating for services.
Another report on Friday also offered a glimmer of hope. A measure of consumer sentiment showed U.S. expectations for future inflation came down in September. That’s key for the Fed because expectations for higher inflation among households can create a debilitiating, self-reinforcing cycle that worsens it.
Treasury yields eased a bit on Friday, letting off some of the pressure that’s built on markets.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 3.73% from 3.79% late Thursday. The two-year yield, which more closely tracks expectations for Fed action, sank to 4.13% from 4.19%.
Still, a long list of other worries continues to hang over global markets, including increasing tensions between much of Europe and Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. A controversial plan to cut taxes by the U.K. government also sent bond markets spinning on fears it could make inflation even worse. Bond markets calmed a bit after the Bank of England pledged mid-week to buy however many U.K. government bonds are needed to bring yields back down.
The stunning and swift rise of the U.S. dollar against other currencies, meanwhile, raises the risk of creating so much stress that something cracks somwhere in global markets.
Stocks around the world were mixed after a report showed that inflation in the 19 countries that use Europe’s euro currency spiked to a record and data from China said that factory activity weakened there.
AP Business Writers Joe McDonald and Matt Ott contributed.