New York: Wall Street fell for a third straight week as fears of aggressive interest rate hikes by a Federal Reserve eager to break the back of the worst US inflation in 40 years led to an investor exodus from stocks and even safe-havens such as gold.
The three major US stock indexes - the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite - closed Friday's trade down by an average of 2.7%. For the week, their average decline was 2.8%, adding to the average net loss of 2.6% over two previous weeks.
Stocks have been in a downtrend most of April, with the Fed planning some of its most aggressive monetary tightening ever to put the brakes on price pressures running riot since the breakout of the Russia-Ukraine conflict that has squeezed global supplies of oil, grains and specialty metals.
The rout on Wall Street deepened this week after an array of Federal Reserve officials - including James Bullard and Mary Daly, who head the central bank's St. Louis and San Francisco divisions, respectively - suggested that a 50-basis point, or half percentage point, hike be imposed at the upcoming policy meeting set for May 4-5. The Federal Reserve approved a mere 25-basis point, or quarter point, increase at its previous interest rate hike in March.
Bullard had even suggested a 75-basis point, or three-quarter percentage point, hike, saying the Federal Reserve was way behind the curve in fighting inflation growing at its fastest pace since 1981.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell weighed in on the debate on Thursday, saying it would be "appropriate" for the central bank to move faster and heavier on rates. That accelerated the selloff in stocks over the past two days, and even pulled down gold, seen as a hedge against economic and political troubles.
"The [US] economy is very strong, as is the labor market, but both can only sustain so much tightening in a short period and we may soon see whether the Fed has left itself too much to do," Craig Erlam, analyst at online trading platform OANDA, said. "Central banks may be targeting a soft landing while belatedly combating very high inflation but that is very hard to achieve and there are plenty of reasons to believe they'll fail to do so again."
In Friday's stock market action, the S&P 500 - which groups the top 500 US stocks - finished down 119 points, or 2.7%, at 4,274. For the week, it fell 2.8%.
The Nasdaq Composite - which houses the biggest technology names of the world, including Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google - closed down 335 points, or 2.6%, at 12,839. It tumbled 3.8% on the week for its worst weekly decline since mid-January.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which lists travel, aviation and cross-industry value stocks, settled down 981 points, or 2.8%, at 33,811. For the week, it fell 1.9%.