Stocks fell in volatile trading on Thursday, wrapping up their worst first half of a year since at least 1970 as the S&P 500 remains in bear market territory, with investors continuing to sell off shares amid rising recession fears sparked by surging inflation and rate hikes from the Federal Reserve.
Stocks finished lower: The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.8%, over 200 points, while the S&P 500 lost 0.8% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite 1.3%.
With the second quarter wrapping up on Thursday, stocks posted their worst three-month period since the first quarter of 2020, when Covid pandemic lockdowns sent the U.S. economy into a brief recession.
The stock market also closed out its worst first half of a year in over 50 years, as surging inflation, rate hikes from the Federal Reserve and Russia’s war in Ukraine have all led to rising recession fears.
With the S&P 500 down roughly 21% so far in 2022, the last time the stock market declined by that magnitude in the first six months was in 1970—but stocks reversed losses later that year and gained 26.5% over the following six months.
The market turmoil in 2022 has been widespread: The price of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have crashed over 50%, while Big Tech stocks such as Alphabet, Apple, Facebook-parent Meta and Netflix have all lost a fifth in value—if not more, in some cases.
Despite the broad selloff this year, energy stocks like Occidental Petroleum (up 100%) have notably outperformed, along with some healthcare and consumer names such as pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb and beer company Molson Coors (both up around 20%).
“A global central bank effort to fight inflation is driving rising recession fears that have given Wall Street the worst half of the year since 1970,” says Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda. “Added volatility from the final trading day of the quarter is especially crazy because so many investors are rebalancing their portfolios with recession stocks.”
Cruise stocks were among the biggest decliners on Thursday, a day after Morgan Stanley warned of weak demand and rising costs in the industry, with shares of Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line all losing 2% or more. Retail stocks were also hard-hit, following a dire profit warning from furniture chain RH.
It took the stock market just 161 days to fall from its peak in January to a 20% decline threshold in June—well below the average time of 245 days in past bear markets, according to data from CFRA Research. Some experts say that could well be “good news” for markets, as a quicker descent into a bear market often tends to mean more “shallow” declines followed by an eventual rebound.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Investors have had to “reassess valuations” given the risks of inflation, geopolitics, monetary policy and the rising risks of a looming recession, says John Lynch, chief investment officer for Comerica Wealth Management. “After a persistent march to new records last year, stocks have suffered severe technical damage that will take time to repair.”