March 13, 2023 - 8:39 am
Updated March 13, 2023 - 1:33 pm
NEW YORK — Bank stocks tumbled Monday on worries about what’s next to break, following the second- and third-largest bank failures in U.S. history. But many other stocks rose on hopes the bloodletting will force the Federal Reserve to take it easier on the hikes to interest rates that are shaking Wall Street and the economy.
The S&P 500 dipped 0.2% after whipsaw trading, where it careened between an early loss of 1.4% and a midday gain of nearly that much. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 90 points, or 0.3%, while the Nasdaq composite rose 0.4%.
The sharpest drops again came from banks and other financial companies. Investors are worried that a relentless rise in interest rates meant to get inflation under control are approaching a tipping point and may be cracking the banking system.
The U.S. government announced a plan late Sunday meant to shore up the banking industry following the collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank since Friday.
The most pressure is on the regional banks a couple steps below in size of the massive, “too-big-to-fail” banks that helped take down the economy in 2007 and 2008. Shares of First Republic Bank fell 61.8%, even after the bank said Sunday it had strengthened its finances with cash from the Federal Reserve and JPMorgan Chase.
Huge banks, which have been repeatedly stress-tested by regulators following the 2008 financial crisis, weren’t down as much. JPMorgan Chase fell 1.8%, and Bank of America dropped 5.8%.
“So far, it seems that the potential problem banks are few, and importantly do not extend to the so-called systemically important banks,” analysts at ING said.
The broader market flipped from losses to gains as expectations built that all the furor will mean the Fed won’t reaccelerate its rate hikes, as it had been threatening to do. Such a move could give the economy and banking system more breathing space, but it could also give inflation more oxygen.
Some investors are calling for the Fed to make cuts to interest rates soon to stanch the bleeding. Rate cuts often act like steroids for the stock market.
The wider expectation, though, is that the Fed will likely pause or at least hold off on accelerating its rate hikes at its next meeting later this month.
That would still be a sharp turnaround from expectations just a week ago, when many traders were forecasting the Fed would hike its key overnight interest rate by 0.50 percentage points. That would put a tighter squeeze on markets and the economy after the Fed had just downshifted last month to an increase of 0.25 points from earlier hikes of 0.50 and 0.75 points.
The fear was that stubbornly high inflation would force the Fed to get even tougher, and investors were bracing for the Fed to keep hiking at least a couple more times after that.
Now, “depending on reactions in financial markets and eventual fallout on the overall economy, we wouldn’t rule out that the hiking cycle could even be over and that the next move by Fed officials may be lower not higher,” said Kevin Cummins, chief U.S. economist at NatWest.
Higher interest rates can drag down inflation by slowing the economy, but they raise the risk of a recession later on. They also hit prices for stocks, as well as bonds sitting in investors’ portfolios.
That latter effect is one of the reasons for Silicon Valley Bank’s troubles. The Fed began hiking rates almost exactly a year ago, and its fastest flurry in decades has brought its key overnight rate to a range of 4.50% to 4.75%. That’s up from virtually zero.
That has hurt the investment portfolios of banks, which often park their cash in Treasurys because they’re considered among the safest investments on Earth.
Rising rates and other moves to reverse the Fed’s tremendous support for the economy during the pandemic have been effectively draining cash from the system, something Wall Street calls “liquidity.”
“Restoring liquidity in the banking system is easier than restoring confidence, and today it is clearly about the latter,” said Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist for LPL Financial.
At one point during the morning, a measure of fear among stock investors on Wall Street touched its highest level since October before falling back. That helped the price of gold to climb, as investors looked for things that seemed safe. It rose $49.30 to settle at $1,961.50 per ounce.
Prices for Treasurys also shot higher on both demand for something safe and expectations for an easier Fed. That in turn sent their yields lower, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury plunged to 3.54% from 3.70% late Friday. That’s a major move for the bond market.
The two-year yield, which moves more on expectations for the Fed, had an even more breath-taking drop. It fell to 3.99% from 4.59% Friday. It was above 5% earlier this month.
Stock markets were mixed in Asia, but the losses deepened as trading headed westward through Europe. Germany’s DAX lost 3% as bank stocks across the continent sank.
In London, the government arranged the sale of Silicon Valley Bank UK Ltd., the California bank’s British arm, for the nominal sum of one British pound, or roughly $1.20.
Before trading began in Asia, the U.S. Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Sunday that all Silicon Valley Bank clients will be protected and have access to their funds and announced steps designed to protect the bank’s customers and prevent more bank runs.
Regulators on Friday closed Silicon Valley Bank as investors withdrew billions of dollars from the bank in a matter of hours, marking the second-largest U.S. bank failure behind the 2008 failure of Washington Mutual. They also announced Sunday that New York-based Signature Bank was being seized after it became the third-largest bank to fail in U.S. history.
All told, the S&P 500 slipped 5.83 points to 3,855.76. The Dow fell 90.50 to 31,819.14, and the Nasdaq rose 49.96 to 11,188.84.
AP Business Writers David McHugh, Yuri Kageyama and Matt Ott contributed.