Tech rout sinks stocks as lines of defense crumble

THE S&P 500 Index closed at the lowest level since early February while the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 459 points Monday. / BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL NAGLE
THE S&P 500 Index closed at the lowest level since early February while the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 459 points Monday. / BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL NAGLE

NEW YORK – The deepening rout in once high-flying technology shares sent U.S. stocks tumbling to start the second quarter, as fresh presidential criticism of Amazon.com and retaliatory tariffs from China rattled markets. Gold rose on haven demand.

The S&P 500 Index closed at the lowest level since early February at 2,581.88 and finished below its average price for the past 200 days for the first time since June 2016. The index is now lower by more than 10 percent from its January record. The Cboe Volatility Index jumped to 23.

Selling was heaviest in technology stocks. The Nasdaq 100 Index lost 2.9 percent as investors continued to offload some of the bull market’s biggest gainers. Amazon, up 50 percent in the past year, sank after Donald Trump renewed his attack on the online retailer. Netflix slid 5 percent, while chipmakers in the S&P 500 plunged 4.3 percent thanks to Intel’s worst day in two years. Bonds erased declines and gold spiked higher as the equity selling picked up steam.

“This is definitely a flight to safety type of market,” said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at Oakbrook Investments. “You’re seeing people coming out of the stocks that had been performing well. There’d been various stories that momentum was extended in the market place, and I would say today’s activity supports that trying to unwind a bit.”

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Trump and renewed trade concerns roiled U.S. financial markets to start the second quarter after the worst three months for global stocks in more than two years. The risk-off tone comes just two weeks before earnings season starts, with investors still anticipating a strong showing even as signs have emerged that the synchronized global growth story is faltering just as the Federal Reserve steps up its tightening.

“The US markets will likely serve as a focal point as investors stateside and elsewhere consider what tact the administration will take toward trade in the weeks ahead and what effects it could have on the US economy and the economies of its trading partners,” John Stoltzfus, the chief investment strategist of Oppenheimer & Co., wrote in a note to clients Monday.

“The U.S. economy is showing a lot of symptoms of being late-cycle,” said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. “I’m looking for a downturn in maybe late next year or early 2020, with the fiscal stimulus they’re getting from the White House giving us a little bit of late-cycle expansion, but nothing that changes the game plan.”

Here are some key events coming up this week:

  • Easter Monday is a public holiday in many major markets including the U.K., Australia, Canada, and most of Europe.
  •  Reserve Bank of Australia April monetary policy decision due Tuesday.
  • New York Fed debuts the Secured Overnight Financing Rate on Tuesday.
  • Reserve Bank of India April policy decision due Thursday.
  • U.S. employment data due Friday; jobless rate probably fell in March after holding at 4.1 percent for five straight months.

These are the main moves in markets:

Stocks

The S&P 500 Index declined 2.2 percent as of 4 p.m. New York time. The Nasdaq 100 was off 2.9 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 459 points to 23,644.19. It was down as much as 758 points earlier in the session. The MSCI Emerging Market Index dropped 0.1 percent.

Currencies

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index fell less than 0.05 percent to 1,124.38. The euro was virtually unchanged at $1.2303, while the yen rose 0.3 percent to 105.92. The British pound increased 0.2 percent to $1.4046, the first advance in a week.

Bonds

The yield on 10-year Treasuries was little changed at 2.74 percent. The yield on two-year Treasuries fell two basis points to 2.25 percent.

Commodities

Gold futures rose 1.3 percent to $1,345.10 an ounce. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 2.8 percent to $63.14 a barrel.

Jeremy Herron and Sarah Ponczek are reporters for Bloomberg News.