Dow drops more than 100 points as bond-market recession indicator, trade worries worsen

Wall Street on edge over recession risk

The Dow Jones Industrial Average more than erased a 155-point rally on Tuesday as a recession indicator from the bond market worsened and fears around the U.S.-China trade war weighed on equity trading.

The Dow fell 120.93 points during the session to finish at 25,777.90, reversing a morning rally that sent the 30-stock index up more than 150 points. The S&P 500 fell 0.32% to 2,869.16 while the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.34% to finish at 7,826.95 amid losses in Netflix, Nvidia and T-Mobile.

The spread between the 10-year Treasury yield and the 2-year rate fell to negative 5 basis points, its lowest level since 2007. This is called a yield-curve inversion. Experts fear it because in the past it has preceded recessionary periods. The 3-month Treasury bill rate also traded higher than the 30-year bond yield.

"The primary thing is yields are going down and going down with some acceleration," said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS.

Bank shares fell broadly. Bank of America fell 1.1% lower while Citigroup dropped 1.6%. J.P. Morgan Chase slid 1%.

Sentiment was also dampened after Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times in China, tweeted that China is "putting so much emphasis on trade talks," adding that "it's more and more difficult for the US to press China to make concessions" as China's economy becomes increasingly driven by its domestic growth. China announced measures aimed at boosting consumption, including potentially removing car-buying restrictions.


"Markets have been headline-driven, to say the least" said Erik Bregar, head of FX strategy at the Exchange Bank of Canada. "The whole U.S.-China trade war is very hard to trade around right now." He added traders should pay close attention to technical levels when navigating this market as they can cut through "noisy" headlines.

Tuesday's moves follow a rally in the previous session. The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite all rose more than 1% on Monday as semiconductor stocks and Apple climbed. The major indexes are all down at least 3.7% for the month of August.

The major indexes rose after President Donald Trump said he expected the U.S. to strike a trade deal with China, citing economic pressure on Beijing. China also called for a resolution to the ongoing dispute.

Traders and financial professionals work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) at the opening bell on August 19, 2019 in New York City.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

However, Trump's claims at the G-7 that China called top U.S. trade negotiators to reignite discussions has been called into question by the Global Times' Hu, who said in a tweet that negotiators from both countries did not talk over the phone. Hu's tabloid is run by the People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party.

Mark Newton, managing member at Newton Advisors, says investors should remain cautious despite Monday's strong performance.

"Given the low volume and breadth on yesterday's bounce, along with China's non-confirmation of any Call, it makes sense to sell into yesterday's move until we see a break of this range," Newton said in a note. "Given a lack of developments on the ongoing China trade dispute, Monday's gains aren't something to be taken too seriously."

The back and forth between the two countries comes after China unveiled last week new tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods. Trump also announced on Friday higher tariffs on a slew of Chinese products.

The recent escalation in U.S.-China trade relations has dented stocks this month. The major averages came into Tuesday's session down more than 3% each in August.

"Tariffs are a tax on the U.S. consumer," said Michael Geraghty, equity strategist at Cornerstone Capital Group. "So far, the consumer seems to be hanging in there, but it remains to be seen what will happen when these tariffs go into effect over the next few months and whether they affect consumer spending. If it does, that's going to be a considerable weight on U.S. stocks."

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—CNBC's Elliot Smith contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Hu Xijin's name.

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