May 29th, 2024

Stock market today: Wall Street falls on double dose of disappointing economic data, as Meta sinks

By Stan Choe, The Associated Press on April 25, 2024.

FILE - People pause near an entrance to the New York Stock Exchange in New York, March 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, File)

NEW YORK (AP) – Stocks closed lower on worries about a potentially toxic cocktail for financial markets, one where inflation remains stubbornly high but the economy’s growth flags. A sharp drop for Meta Platforms, one of Wall Street’s most influential stocks, also dragged the market lower. The S&P 500 fell 0.5% Thursday after paring an earlier drop of 1.6%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1%, and the Nasdaq composite gave back 0.6%. Treasury yields climbed after the government reported that inflation remained hotter than forecast during the first three months of the year. The economy’s growth also slowed more than expected.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

NEW YORK (AP) – U.S. stocks fell Thursday on worries about a potentially toxic cocktail for financial markets, one where inflation remains stubbornly high but the economy’s growth flags. A sharp drop for Facebook’s parent company, one of Wall Street’s most influential stocks, also dragged the market lower.

The S&P 500 was 0.4% lower in late trading after paring an earlier drop of 1.6%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 371 points, or 1%, after earlier falling more than 700. The Nasdaq composite was 0.6% lower, with less than an hour remaining in trading.

Meta Platforms, the company behind Facebook and Instagram, dropped 10.7% even though it reported better profit for the latest quarter than analysts expected. Investors focused on the big investments in artificial intelligence Meta pledged to make. AI has created a frenzy on Wall Street, but Meta is increasing its spending when it also gave a forecasted range for upcoming revenue whose midpoint fell below analysts’ expectations.

Expectations had built high for Meta, along with the other “Magnificent Seven” stocks that drove most of the stock market’s returns last year. They need to hit a high bar to justify their high stock prices.

The entire U.S. stock market felt the pressure of another rise in Treasury yields following the disappointing data on the U.S. economy. The report shot directly at one of the hopes that had sent the S&P 500 to record after record this year: The economy can avoid a deep recession and support strong profits for companies, even if high inflation takes a while to fully get under control.

That’s what Wall Street calls a “soft landing” scenario, and expectations had grown recently even for a “no landing” where the economy avoids a recession completely.

But Thursday’s report said the U.S. economy’s growth slowed to a 1.6% annual rate during the first three months of this year from 3.4% at the end of 2023.

That was weaker than expected and would have been disappointing by itself. Making it worse for financial markets, the report also said inflation was hotter during the three months than economists forecast. That could tie the hands of the Federal Reserve, which normally juices sluggish economies by cutting interest rates.

Thursday’s economic data will likely get revised a couple times as the U.S. government fine-tunes the numbers. But the lower-than-expected growth and higher-than-expected inflation is “a bit of a slap in the face to those hoping for a “˜no landing’ scenario,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief economist at Annex Wealth Management.

“Things can change a lot from one quarter to the next, so it’s too early to say the Fed has failed, but this doesn’t help their cause.”

Underneath the surface, the economic report may not have been as bad as initially thought. Much of the slowdown was due to a rise in imports and other factors that can swing sharply and quickly. The main engine of the economy, spending by U.S. households, remained relatively solid. That helped blunt the worry caused by the report, helping markets to pare their morning losses, but it did not erase the threat.

Treasury yields still climbed as traders pared bets for cuts to rates this year by the Federal Reserve.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 4.70% from 4.66% just before the report and from 4.65% late Wednesday.

Traders are largely betting on the possibility of just one or maybe two cuts to interest rates this year by the Fed, if any, according to data from CME Group. They came into the year forecasting six or more after inflation cooled notably into the end of 2023. A string of reports this year showing inflation remaining hotter than forecast has crushed those expectations.

Top officials themselves have said they could hold the Fed’s main interest rate high for a while before lowering it from its strictest level since 2001. High interest rates slow the overall economy and hurt prices for investments, but cuts could help inflation reaccelerate.

That puts more pressure is on companies to deliver bigger profits.

Southwest Airlines fell 7.6% after the carrier reported worse results for the first quarter than analysts expected. CEO Robert Jordan said the airline was limiting hiring and making other moves “to address our financial underperformance” and cope with delayed deliveries of new planes from Boeing.

Textron tumbled 8.9% after the maker of Bell helicopters and Cessna jets reported weaker profit and revenue than forecast. Caterpillar sank 6.3% despite reporting stronger profit than expected. Its revenue for the latest quarter fell short of analysts’ expectations.

IBM fell 8.6% even though it also reported stronger profit than expected. Its revenue likewise failed to meet analysts’ forecasts, as it said it was buying HashiCorp in a deal valuing the multi-cloud infrastructure automation company at $6.4 billion.

On the winning side was Carrier Global, which rose 8.7% after reporting stronger earnings than expected. It was able to wring more operating profit out of each $1 in revenue.

In stock markets abroad, Japan’s Nikkei 225 slid 2.2% as investors wait to hear whether the Bank of Japan will make any moves to prop up the tumbling value of the yen.

Indexes were mixed elsewhere in Asia and Europe.

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AP Business Writers Yuri Kageyama and Matt Ott contributed.

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