Dow sheds 650 points, stocks post worst day after any election in a decade as control of Congress remains in flux

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Stocks finished sharply lower, near session lows Wednesday, a day before the October consumer inflation report and as tight races in midterm elections left control of the U.S. House and Senate up for grabs.

Instead of the usual boost, the Dow and S&P 500 posted their worst decline a day after any U.S. election in a decade, according to Dow Jones Market Data. The Nasdaq’s fall on Wednesday matched its 2.48% election day decline in 2012.

How did stock indexes perform

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 646.89 points, or 2% to close at 32,513.94
  • The S&P 500  shed 79.54 points, or 2.1% to end at 3,748.57
  • The Nasdaq Composite tumbled 263.02 points, or 2.5%, finishing at 10,353.17

On Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1%, the S&P 500 increased 0.6% and the Nasdaq Composite gained 0.5%, each booking three straight days of gains. The S&P 500 remains down 20% for the year to date.

What drove markets

Stock indexes fell sharply Wednesday, ahead of the consumer-price index data for October due Thursday and as the results from the U.S. midterm elections trickled in but the battle to control Congress remained unclear.

“Stocks saw a run up on the rumor of a Republican wave, but investors are selling the news on election results,” said Robert Pavlik, senior portfolio manager at Dakota Wealth Management.

The S&P 500 index rallied over the past three sessions, partly on hopes that gains for the Republicans might deliver partisan gridlock in Washington.

A popular view on Wall Street has been that a divided government could be beneficial for equity valuations since it may reduce regulatory uncertainty, crimp the likelihood of more corporate taxes, and mean less government spending, which should help undercut inflation.

In turn, less inflation could, at the margin, reduce the need for the Federal Reserve to continue to raise interest rates aggressively. The S&P 500 is down nearly 20% in 2022 as the Fed has raised its benchmark interest rate from effectively zero at the start of March to a range of 3.75% to 4%.

However, Richmond Fed President Thomas Barkin on Wednesday said the Fed shouldn’t stop raising interest rates for fear of sparking an economic downturn because it risks inflation coming back even stronger, requiring even stricter measures down the road.

Still, the focus on Wall Street was on midterm election results and on Thursday’s inflation update, with the consumer-price index for October expected to show persistently high prices compared with a year ago, despite dramatically higher rates.

See: U.S. inflation likely to post another sharp increase in October, CPI to show

While markets were still digesting the outcome of the midterm elections, the bigger data point likely will be Thursday’s CPI reading, said Jake Jolly, senior investment strategist at BNY Mellon Investment Management.

He pointed to relative calm in the Treasury bond-market yield curve over the past 24 hours. “It suggests this is a market that’s processing and pricing in the midterm results, but really waiting to see what inflation data looks like tomorrow,” he said, in a phone interview.

The 2-year U.S. Treasury yield which is particularly sensitive to monetary policy, was trading around 4.63% on Wednesday, having flirted with 15-year high near 4.75% at the beginning of the week. The dollar index gained 0.8% to 110.47, against a basket of rival currencies.

Investors also have been monitoring a fresh crypto wobble. Bitcoin was trading at a two-year near $16,000 as investors digested news that Binance said it was walking away from a deal to acquire rival FTX, which has been hit by a liquidity crunch.

“In the beginning, our hope was to be able to support FTX’s customers to provide liquidity, but the issues are beyond our control or ability to help,” Binance said in a statement.

“What happens is that bitcoin holders invested in the stock market have to raise cash to meet margin calls,” Pavlik said, adding that the stock market gets further squeezed to the downside when coupled with selling tied to the midterm elections.

In corporate earnings, Walt Disney Co. and News Corp. fell after posting disappointing results while declines in big tech names including Apple Inc. Inc. and Nvidia Corp. weighed on the Nasdaq-100.

“October CPI will be very important and consensus is looking for another ‘hot print’ with some seeing year-on-year surging to 9%. This shows that many armchair economists simply draw lines on both growth and acceleration,” said Tom Lee, head of research at Fundstrat, who added that he reckons the inflation number will come in softer than expected.

“All in all, this keeps us constructive on stocks into year end. And we think this rally will rise further and last longer than the 23 trading day rally following June pivot talk,” Lee said.

Companies in focus

  • Walt Disney Co. shares plummeted 13.2% Wednesday, as the company wrapped up its fiscal year with record sales and its best revenue growth in more than 25 years, but executives predicted much slower sales increases in the year ahead while missing expectations for fourth-quarter earnings and sales.
  • Meta Platforms Inc. stock rose 5.2% Wednesday after chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told employees Wednesday that he planned to lay off about 13% of the social-media company’s employee base, or 11,000 employees, as Meta works to become “leaner.”
  • Tesla shares lost 6.9% after SEC filings showed CEO Elon Musk sold nearly $4 billion in Tesla shares in the days following his purchase of Twitter.
  • DR Horton stock gained 2.9% despite the home builder missing top and bottom line estimates for its latest quarter. It also said it would not provide guidance due to housing market uncertainty.
  • AMC fell 9.7% after the cinema chain reported its 12th consecutive quarterly loss and revenue that topped analysts’ estimates after market close on Tuesday.
  • Novavax shares fell 4.3% Wednesday after the company on Tuesday tweaked its full-year sales outlook to the low end of its expected range and reported a surprise quarterly loss, but sales for the COVID-19 vaccine maker were far better than expected.
  • Lucid Group Inc. stock plunged 16.9% Wednesday after the electric-car maker reported a wider quarterly loss and sales that fell short of Wall Street estimates. Lucid lost $530 million, or 40 cents a share, in the third quarter, compared with a loss of $524 million, or 43 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Additional reporting by Jamie Chisholm

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