Stocks continued their August swoon Monday on fears that Hong Kong protests, falling worldwide bond yields and the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute could lead to a global recession.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 462 points before the blue chips clawed some of that back to finish down about 390 points at 25,898, about a 1.5 percent drop. Financial services was among the hardest-hit Dow sectors, with Goldman Sachs Group off 2.6 percent. Pfizer, United Technologies and Caterpillar were also big drags. Only drug giant Merck stayed slightly above water.
The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index finished down 36 points at 2,882, a 1.2 percent drop. The technology-laden Nasdaq composite index fell about 95 points on the day to close at 7,863, or 1.2 percent.
All 11 S&P stock sectors closed lower, led down by banks, consumer staples, materials and technologies. Banks are among the most vulnerable when bond yields drop, because it is more difficult to make money on loans.
“The escalating trade tensions, combined with low volume and traditionally weaker-than-average price returns in August and September, are contributing to a re-test of last week’s low for the S&P 500,” said Sam Stovall of CFRA Research.
European markets closed down across the board. Asian markets were mixed, with the Hang Seng in Hong Kong dropping 0.44 percent. The Japanese Nikkei 225 and the Shanghai Composite closed in positive territory.
Several factors have contributed to the market turbulence in recent sessions, including China’s threat to devalue its currency, massive protests in Hong Kong that could prompt a response from the Chinese government, an escalation of the U.S.-China trade war and a flight to bonds.
Goldman Sachs chief economist Jan Hatzius said he does not expect a U.S.-China trade deal before the 2020 election in a note he released over the weekend.
“We have increased our estimate of the growth impact of the trade war,” he said in his report. Hatzius now sees fourth-quarter U.S. growth at 1.8 percent, lower than many forecasts.
President Trump has hardened his position on China trade in the past two weeks, threatening to increase tariffs from the current 10 percent to 25 percent next month if the Chinese do not make concessions to the United States.
The trade back-and-forth has fostered a feeling of uncertainty among American businesses, making it more difficult for companies to make long-term plans. The uncertainty has been felt in stock prices. The Dow is about 5 percent off its all-time high of one month ago.
Monday’s decline follows a turbulent start to August, which is historically one of the worst months of the year for stocks. But the trade war with China is casting a pall over the global economy, threatening a decade-long U.S. boom that had pushed stocks to all-time highs.
“At this point it is up to the president,” Nancy Tengler of Tengler Wealth Management wrote in a note Monday. “Cut a trade deal with China, and we can avoid recession. Stocks will like that a good deal, too.”
The closely watched 10-year U.S. Treasury bond was down to 1.633 percent, a sign that investors may be heading away from risk and toward the safety of long-term bonds. Yields drop when bond prices rise. Some European countries have negative bond yields. That means people are paying governments to hold their money for them. Historically people buy government bonds and expect interest payments on those bonds as a reward for lending the government money.
Stocks are coming off their worst day of the year last Monday and finished five turbulent sessions on Friday only slightly negative for the week.