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Tech Selloff Sweeps Across Stocks; Yellen Says Rates May Rise

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Volatility gripped financial markets as a selloff in some of the world’s largest technology companies dragged down stocks.

The S&P 500 pared losses amid a rebound in commodity, financial and industrial shares, while the Nasdaq 100 underperformed as megacaps Apple Inc., Tesla Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. sank.

The dollar briefly extended its advance after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said rates may have to rise modestly to prevent the economy from overheating.

Her remarks added to an already heated debate on whether government spending could spur a surge in inflation, crashing into a stock market showing signs of jitters over elevated valuations.

Hedge funds have been bailing from equities at a pace not seen since the financial crisis, while shares have struggled to gain much traction despite blowout earnings.

[Editor's note: Before the market closed Tuesday, Yellen said she was not predicting or recommending interest-rate increases when she discussed the possible impact of fiscal spending on the U.S. economy earlier in the day.]

‘Run Out of Steam’

“We’ve had this spectacular run-up, and I think we’ve seen momentum just run out of steam,” said Fiona Cincotta, senior financial markets analyst at City Index. “Despite earnings being encouraging, they haven’t managed to push those indices higher. Moving out of growth and into cyclicals is the place we’re going to have more movement.”

Earlier Tuesday, a sharp drop in equity futures left traders scrambling for reasons to explain the move. Some investors speculated on military tensions between China and Taiwan, Singapore’s tougher coronavirus restrictions and Ferrari NV’s decision to postpone financial targets.

Traders also monitored the latest economic readings, with the U.S. trade deficit widening to a new record in March.

Meanwhile, a senior White House economic aide demurred on the question of whether President Joe Biden will nominate Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell for a second four-year term, saying the decision on selecting the next central bank chief will come after a thorough “process.”

Here are some key events to watch this week:

  • U.S. ADP employment change is due Wednesday
  • Chicago Fed President Charles Evans gives a virtual speech at an event hosted by Bard College on Wednesday. Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester gives a virtual speech to the Boston Economic Club
  • Bank of England rate decision Thursday
  • The April U.S. employment report is released on Friday

These are some of the main moves in markets:

Stocks

  • The S&P 500 fell 0.9% as of 2:53 p.m. New York time
  • The Nasdaq 100 fell 2.2%
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.2%
  • The MSCI World index fell 1%

Currencies

  • The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index rose 0.3%
  • The euro fell 0.4% to $1.2016
  • The British pound fell 0.1% to $1.3896
  • The Japanese yen fell 0.2% to 109.28 per dollar

Bonds

  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries was little changed at 1.59%
  • Germany’s 10-year yield declined three basis points to -0.24%
  • Britain’s 10-year yield declined five basis points to 0.79%

Commodities

  • West Texas Intermediate crude rose 1.9% to $66 a barrel
  • Gold futures fell 0.7% to $1,779 an ounce

–With assistance from Andreea Papuc, Yakob Peterseil, Vildana Hajric, Kamaron Leach, Sophie Caronello and Nancy Moran

 

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