By Damian J. Troise and Alex Veiga
Stocks on Wall Street gave up more ground Tuesday amid mounting worries that persistently high inflation will dim corporate profits.
The S&P 500 fell 0.8%, while the Nasdaq dropped 2.3%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average eked out a 0.2% gain, thank's primarily to big gains for McDonald's and UnitedHealth.
Big technology and communications companies helped weigh down the broader market, though some of the selling eased by late afternoon.
A stark profit warning from Snapchat’s parent company spooked investors into dumping the stocks of major social media companies. Snap plummeted 43.1%, its biggest single-day drop ever, while Facebook's parent, Meta, slumped 7.6%. Google's parent fell 5.1%.
Technology and communications stocks, with their lofty values, tend to have an outsize influence on the market. The sectors have been responsible for much of the volatility the market has seen recently as well as the broad decline the major indexes have seen since early April as investors worry about the impact of rising inflation on businesses and consumers.
The pullback undercut a broad rally a day earlier, the latest example of how volatile trading has been during the market's swoon this year.
"Just given how much uncertainty there is, people are still having a difficult time finding that one or maybe two catalysts that give them enough confidence to take on risk assets,” said Sameer Samana, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.
The S&P 500 fell 32.27 points to 3,941.48. The Dow gained 48.38 points to 31,928.62, and the Nasdaq slid 270.83 points to 11,264.45.
Smaller company stocks also fell. The Russell 2000 dropped 27.94 points, or 1.6%, to 1,764.83.
The pile of concerns weighing on the market has pushed the benchmark S&P 500 to the brink of a bear market, which is when an index falls 20% from its most recent record high. It is down roughly 18% from its record high set earlier this year.
Inflation has been weighing on a wide range of industries in the form of higher raw materials costs and more costly labor. Many businesses have been raising prices on everything from food to clothing to offset the impact of higher costs, but the pressure has been increasing. Key retailers, including Target and Walmart have said that higher costs are squeezing operations. They also raised concerns that consumers are tempering spending on a wide range of goods.
“When you think about consumer spending, wages are great but inflation is greater,” said Barry Bannister, chief equity strategist at Stifel. “Consumers are squeezed and that’s affecting all of retail.”
Consumers were already getting squeezed by a supply and demand disconnect when Russia invaded Ukraine and prompted another jump in energy prices. U.S. crude oil is up about 50% this year and that has pushed gasoline prices to record highs, with pain at the pump cutting into spending for many. Supply chain problems were worsened by China's recent lockdown in several major cities as it deals with rising COVID-19 cases.
Wall Street is also worried about the Federal Reserve's plan to fight inflation. The central bank is raising interest rates aggressively from historic lows, but investors are concerned that it could go too far in raising rates or move too quickly. That could slow down businesses and potentially bring on a recession. Fed Chair Jerome Powell has acknowledged that high inflation and economic weakness overseas could thwart the central bank's efforts to cool the economy and curb inflation without tipping into a recession.
On Wednesday, investors will get a more detailed glimpse into the Fed’s decision-making process with the release of minutes from the latest policy meeting.
“Until oil cracks and the Fed pauses, its hard for the market to get any upside,” Bannister said.
Retailers and companies that rely on direct consumer spending were among the big decliners Tuesday. Amazon slid 3.2% and Target fell 2.6%.
Bond yields fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.76% from 2.86% late Monday.
Falling bond yields weighed on banks, which rely on higher yields to charge more lucrative interest on loans. Wells Fargo fell 1.2%.
Homebuilders slumped following a government report showing that sales of newly built homes fell far short of economists’ forecasts. KB Home fell 2.7%.
Cruise lines and other travel-ralate companies took some of the heaviest losses. Carnival slid 10.3% and Norwegian Cruise Line fell 12%.
Household goods companies and utilities, which are considered less risky than other sectors, made gains. Campbell Soup rose 3.5% and Duke Energy closed 2% higher.
Veiga reported from Los Angeles.
Updated on May 24, 2022, at 5:39 p.m. ET.