Stocks close flat in wild session Friday that saw the S&P 500 briefly fall into a bear market

Palo Alto, Amazon, and AMD are some of today's stocks: Pro Market Movers May 20
Palo Alto, Amazon, and AMD are some of today's stocks: Pro Market Movers May 20

Rising recession fears pushed U.S. stocks briefly into a bear market on Friday with the S&P 500's decline from its all-time high in January reaching 20% at one point. A dramatic late-day reversal pushed the benchmark slightly into the green for the day at the closing bell.

The S&P 500 finished 0.01% higher to 3,901.36 on Friday after falling as much as 2.3% earlier in the session. At the day's lows, the S&P 500 was 20.9% below its intraday high in January. The index closed about 19% below its record.

There's no official bear market designation on Wall Street. Some will count Friday's decline at the intraday lows as confirmation of a bear market, whereas some strategists may say it's not official until it closes 20% off its high. Regardless, it's the biggest downturn of this magnitude since the rapid bear market in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic.

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"Stocks are still liberally priced and the psychology that drove them upward for a decade has turned negative," wrote George Ball, chairman at investment firm Sanders Morris Harris. "The average bear market lasts a year (338 days, more precisely). This downturn has run for only one-third of that, so it probably has more downside room to run, albeit punctuated by interim rallies."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 8.77 points to 31,261.90 after being down more than 600 points at the day's lows. The Nasdaq Composite fell 0.3% and is already deep in bear market territory, 30% off its highs.

For the week, the Dow lost 2.9% for its first eight-week losing streak since 1923. The S&P 500 lost 3% for the week, while the Nasdaq shed 3.8% — with both posting seven-week losing streaks.

"This week's decline felt as if the market was starting to recognize that earnings growth and S&P 500 profitability may be in jeopardy as inflation will continue to be higher throughout the year," wrote David Wagner, portfolio manager at Aptus Capital Advisors.

Biggest S&P 500 losers during bear

Ticker Company % off 52-week high
UAAUnder Armour64.7%
PENNPenn National Gaming63.2%
ALGNAlign Technology62.7%
CCLCarnival Corp.58.3%
CZRCaesars Entertainment58.2%

Source: FactSet

The S&P 500's brief dip into bear market territory comes as the U.S. has been dealing with inflationary pressures not seen in decades. Those have been worsened by a surge in energy prices — which was exacerbated in large part by the start of the Ukraine-Russia war.

The jump in inflation then led the Federal Reserve to hike rates in March for the first time in more than three years. Earlier this month, the central bank got even more aggressive and hiked rates by half a percentage point.

At first, the sell-off losses were centered around highly valued growth and technology stocks. However, the drawdown eventually broadened to other parts of the market. Through Friday close, energy was the only positive S&P 500 sector year to date.

Biggest Nasdaq losers in the bear market

Zoom Video CommunicationsZOOM77.92%
PayPal HoldingsPYPL74.03%
Okta OKTA69.52%
Lucid GroupLCID68.16%
Atlassian Corp.TEAM63.28%
Align TechnologyAL