Wall Street poised to clinch bear market as S&P 500 tumbles

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By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The benchmark S&P 500 was down more than 20% from its Jan. 3 record closing high in early trading Monday as investors sold stocks amid worries over whether the Federal Reserve will be able to tame inflation without triggering a recession.

A close of more than 20% below the record high would confirm the index was in a bear market, according to a commonly used definition. It would be the first time the S&P 500 has confirmed a bear market since the 2020 Wall Street plunge brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stocks have been volatile since the start of the year, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February also taking a heavy toll on markets.

But increasing worries about inflation and the U.S. central bank’s monetary policy tightening as it attempts to quell it have fueled much of the recent sell-off.

On Friday, major U.S. stock indexes posted their biggest weekly percentage declines since January and ended sharply lower on the day after a report showed steeper-than-expected rise in U.S. consumer prices in May.

“Consumer sentiment in the U.S. hit an all-time low in May due largely to higher prices and growing concerns inflation is here to stay,” Morgan Stanley equity strategist Michael Wilson wrote in a note Monday.

With a break below the year’s low and a move below 3,850, “we see potential downside in the S&P 500 to a little over 3,200,” Lori Calvasina, head of U.S. equity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a note.

The S&P 500 was last at 3,777.08, down 3.2%.

This year’s downturn is a pivotal shift for the market after its swift and strong post-pandemic rally. The S&P 500 rose 114.38% from its closing low on March 23, 2020, to its Jan. 3 record closing high this year.

Earlier this year, the Nasdaq confirmed it was in bear market territory, the first of the three major U.S. indexes to hit such levels.

(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Chuck Mikolajczak and Nick Zieminski)