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The stock market's relentless tumble has many wondering what it would take to turn things around.
Uncertainty has gripped stocks with the midterm election just a week away. Investors are wondering whether an era of deregulation, tax cuts and pro-business policies will continue or be curtailed in the next Congress.
Stocks usually rally after midterm elections, and corporate profit was strong in the third quarter, which should give investors comfort. But executives expressed concern about the effects of the strong U.S. dollar and tariffs on profit margins. And on Monday, news that the Trump administration might raise the ante on China yet again and put tariffs on nearly all of its imports to the U.S. sent stocks tumbling.
All eyes are on the Federal Reserve, led by Chairman Jerome Powell. It must decide in December whether to raise its benchmark interest rate for the fourth time this year or leave it alone. The Fed has been raising rates to keep inflation in check during an economic expansion. Powell's rate hikes this year have been repeatedly criticized by President Donald Trump.
Doug Roberts, the managing director at Channel Capital Management, said it boils down to two issues. "It really has to do with the Fed and the election," he said. "The key thing is the election. That will give some certainty."
The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank into correction territory on Monday, unimaginable just a few weeks ago when it was charging through another record high. The selling was broad and also weighed down the S&P 500, the Russell 2000 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq.
Big share buybacks by companies could lift stocks. But many agree the Fed holds the key to the direction of the market, at least for the near term. Roberts said any comments by Powell that could be perceived as "dovish," or inclined to favor low rates, would be welcome to stock investors.
J.J. Kinahan, TDAmeritrade's chief market strategist, said corporate executives need to do a better job of guiding the market on future earnings. "The one thing that will continue to hurt the markets is bad guidance," he said. "These CEOs just aren't sure. In three months they won't get hurt by saying things are better than we expected. They're taking the conservative route."
Tariffs are another wild card. The market has gotten more volatile since the Trump administration began slapping tariffs on imports from various trading partners, especially in its conflict with China. The threats and retaliations, all an effort to get China to the negotiating table, have been turning up the heat since the spring with seemingly no end in sight.
China's economy is cooling down, and that might mean lowering expectations across the board, said Jack Ablin, the chief investment officer at Cresset Wealth Advisors. "We can't keep living in an economic dreamland," he said. "The world's second-largest economy is slowing down, and China's leader wants to deliver. I don't see recession but just have to ratchet down the projections."
— Jeff Cox, Kate Rooney and Thomas Franck contributed reporting.