By STAN CHOE
AP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks fell on Wall Street, posting their biggest drop in four weeks, after another reading on inflation came in hotter than expected. The S&P 500 fell 1.4% Thursday after inflation at the wholesale level slowed by less than economists forecast last month. Treasury yields rose as traders upped their bets for how high the Federal Reserve will raise rates to combat inflation. Higher rates hurt the economy and weigh on financial markets. A suite of mixed data on the economy also chipped away at hopes that the Fed could get inflation to continue to come down without creating a severe recession.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
NEW YORK (AP) — Another reading showing inflation remains hotter than feared rattled Wall Street further on Thursday.
The S&P 500 was 1% lower in late trading following a report that showed inflation at the wholesale level slowed by less last month than economists forecast. It echoed a report on prices at the consumer level from earlier this week that suggested inflation isn’t cooling as quickly and as smoothly as hoped.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 260 points, or 0.8%, at 33,866, as of 3:23 p.m. Eastern time, while the Nasdaq composite was 1.2% lower.
Stocks have been churning recently as worries about sticky inflation joust against data suggesting the economy remains more resilient than feared. The worry has been that persistently high inflation will push the Federal Reserve to get even more aggressive on interest rates. Higher rates can drive down inflation but also drag on investment prices and raise the risk of a serious recession.
Such fears have been most clear in the bond market, where yields have leaped this month as traders up their bets for how high the Fed will take interest rates this year.
The yield on the two-year Treasury, which tends to track expectations for Fed action, rose to 4.65% from less than 4.60% before the inflation report’s release and from less than 4.10% earlier this month. It’s near its highest level since November, when the yield reached levels last seen in 2007.
Thursday’s report showed that prices at the wholesale level were 6% higher last month than a year earlier. While that was a slowdown from December’s 6.5% inflation rate, it was worse than the 5.4% that economists expected to see. Perhaps more concerning was that inflation accelerated in January on a month-to-month basis even after stripping out prices for food, energy and other layers.
The inflation report thudded onto Wall Street along with a batch of other data painting a mixed picture of the economy.
Fewer workers applied for jobless benefits last week than expected, a sign that layoffs remain low across the economy. That’s good news for workers and another signal of strength for the job market, but the Fed worries it could also add upward pressure on inflation.
Other reports showed a measure of manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region plunged this month, while homebuilders broke ground on fewer homes last month than economists expected.
Altogether, the reports cast some doubt on Wall Street’s hopes that the Federal Reserve could pull off the tightrope walk of slowing the economy just enough to stamp out inflation but not so much that it creates a severe recession. But hopes for a “soft landing” for the economy nevertheless remain firmly in the market, with the S&P 500 still up 7% for the year.
“I would go further and say ‘no landing,’” said Nate Thooft, senior portfolio manager at Manulife Investment Management. “It’s almost as if there’s no softness perceived, or it’s so minimal that it’s not really viewed as recessionary at all.”
Those hopes have helped the stock market remain resilient even as the bond market moves sharply on expectations for a firmer Fed.
Thooft said there’s a chance both markets could ultimately be proven correct, that the Fed could keep rates higher for longer while the economy avoids a recession, but he’s skeptical. He thinks what’s more likely is a shallow recession or slowdown in growth, but one that lasts longer than markets may be prepared for.
Recently, he was thinking weakness in the economy could last a few months. But his expectations for a “higher-for-longer” Fed have him now thinking it may even last up to a year.
The Fed has already hiked its key overnight rate up to a range of 4.50% to 4.75%, up from basically zero a year ago. It has said that it expects to push through a couple more increases before holding rates at a high level at least through the end of this year.
The strong recent reports on inflation and the job market have forced Wall Street to align its forecasts for rates closer to the Fed’s. Earlier this year, there was a wide disconnect between them. Investors were betting the Fed wouldn’t go as high as it was saying, while also holding out significant hopes for a cut to rates in the latter part of the year.
The fear now is that if inflation proves sticker than expected that the Fed will have to go beyond what it’s been prepping the market for.
Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said in a speech Thursday that she saw “a compelling economic case” at the Fed’s meeting earlier this month to raise rates by double what it ended up doing. .
Some stocks on Wall Street were able to buck the overall downward trend after reporting stronger earnings for the latest quarter than expected. Networking giant Cisco Systems rose 5.8%, for example.
Big tech stocks were helping to lead the overall market lower, though, because they’re seen as some of the most vulnerable to higher interest rates. In earlier years, their stocks shot higher in part because of record-low interest rates.
A 2.1% fall for Microsoft and 2.5% drop for Nvidia were some of the heaviest weights on the S&P 500.
AP Business Writers Yuri Kageyama and Matt Ott contributed.
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