US stocks plunge on recession fears after steep rate cuts by central banks

New York  — US stock indices closed sharply lower on Thursday in a broad sell-off as recession fears grew following moves by central banks around the globe to stamp out rising inflation after the Federal Reserve’s largest rate hike since 1994.

The benchmark S&P 500 suffered its sixth decline in seven sessions. Stocks had rallied on Wednesday as the Fed delivered an aggressive 75 basis point rate hike, as expected, to help the index snap its longest daily losing streak since early January.

But rate hikes on Thursday from the central banks of Switzerland and Britain reignited fears that attempts by central banks to curb inflation could lead to sharply slower growth worldwide or a recession.

“That is what people reassessing today — what is the probability of a potential recession and will corporate profits come in where analysts estimates are or will those get taken down,” said Tom Hainlin, global investment strategist at US Bank Wealth Management’s Ascent Private Wealth Group in Minneapolis.

“The Swiss came out and surprised everybody today and said we are less worried about the strength of our currency and more worried about inflation.”

According to preliminary data, the S&P 500 lost 121.87 points, or 3.22%, to end at 3,668.12 points, while the Nasdaq Composite lost 448.28 points, or 4.04%, to 10,650.88. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 727.65 points, or 2.37%, to 29,940.88.

Each of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower, although the defensive consumer staples outperformed the broader market as names such as Wal Mart, General Mills and Procter & Gamble were among the few S&P 500 components to advance in the session. Growth stocks were hit hard with the S&P growth index down about 4%.

Hopes the Fed could engineer a soft economic landing are fading and Wells Fargo analysts now see a greater than 50% chance of a recession. Other banks that have warned of rising recession risks include Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley.

The benchmark index has slumped about 23% year-to-date and recently confirmed a bear market began on January 3, while the Dow Industrials was on the cusp of confirming its own bear market.

The CBOE volatility index, also known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, rose and was slightly below the one-month high of 35.05 touched earlier in the week. Many analysts are looking for the VIX to touch around 40 as one of the signals that selling pressure may be reaching its apex.