A sharp stock market sell-off that began in Beijing clobbered Wall Street on Monday, sending shares plunging by record amounts amid renewed fears that the global economy is slowing down and world leaders are running out of ways to pump it back up.
“Black Monday,” Chinese state media tweeted as markets there tumbled nearly 8.5 percent. The turmoil drove other Asian indexes down to three-year lows and knocked European markets off by as much as 5 percent. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average plummeted more than 1,000 points — a historic nose dive — just minutes after the opening bell rang. Stocks then staged a dramatic turnaround but stumbled again in the afternoon to close nearly 600 points in the red. The sell-off and ensuing chaos bruised every industry. Some of the biggest U.S. companies have shed tens of billions of dollars in market value in only a few days.
The benchmark Shanghai Composite index opened lower again on Tuesday, and was down 4.5 percent at 10:15 a.m. local time. But other Asian markets recovered ground after Monday’s sell-off. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index was up 0.76 percent in mid-morning trade in Tokyo, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was 2.13 percent higher.
Monday’s jaw-dropping swings reflected the level of investor anxiety over the status of the world’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. China’s breakneck expansion has cooled off, but unlike on previous occasions, government officials have done little to intervene so far. Adding to the uncertainty is the prospect of interest rate increases in the United States and the United Kingdom that some analysts worry could derail progress in two of the global economy’s bright spots.
“This is all about fears of a hard landing in China,” said Campbell R. Harvey, an economist and business professor at Duke University. Wall Street’s panicked opening, he added, “is bare-faced evidence of a market overreaction.”
China’s stock market has been roiling since June, when details began to emerge of the extent of the country’s economic weakness. The Shanghai Composite index has fallen by nearly 40 percent since then, after soaring more than 140 percent last year.
The government’s surprise move this month to allow the Chinese currency to adjust in line with market forces — which, in essence, devalued the yuan — only served to fan global fears that the economic behemoth was in dire straits. The turmoil ramped up Friday when a key barometer of Chinese manufacturing sagged to its lowest point since the global financial crisis.
But perhaps most worrisome to investors was that Beijing did not act aggressively enough to stem the slide — particularly since China’s stock market is dominated by mom-and-pop investors rather than the large funds that trade on Wall Street.
“Now I understand why people jump from high buildings,” user Y-MariaH wrote on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo. “After investing into market, I’m having that kind of urge.”
Fuelling Monday’s decline was disappointment the central bank did not move to add liquidity to the system by cutting bank’ reserve ratios. But traders said even such a move might not restore confidence now.
“This alone is not going to significantly reverse sentiment,” said Chris Weston, chief markets strategist at IG in Melbourne. “Still, we will need to hear of easing measures fairly soon and we need to hear of commercial banks increasing liquidity to infrastructure projects. “
“China needs to convince the domestic market and the world that its economy is able to cope with further outflows and that its slowdown is under control,” he wrote in a daily note on the markets.
The rapid response by international markets to the turbulence in China underscored how tightly knit the global financial system has become. Crude oil prices sank to $38.24 a barrel Monday, the lowest level in more than six years. Though there is little direct harm to the United States from the slowdown in China, it could have widespread ripple effects that have the potential to influence U.S. policy.
On the presidential campaign trail, Republican candidate Donald Trump warned on social media Monday that China could “bring us down,” attributing the plunge in the markets to “allowing China and Asia to dictate the agenda.” Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie capitalized on the moment to knock President Obama’s deficit spending. China is one of the largest purchasers of U.S. government debt.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration is closely monitoring global markets. He said the U.S. recovery remains on track, calling the economy “durable.” Businesses have been hiring at a steady clip, the jobless rate is falling and economic growth has rebounded after stalling over the winter.
But the psychology of financial markets is often counterintuitive — and some analysts believe the strength in Main Street is actually contributing to the volatility on Wall Street.
That’s because the Federal Reserve has cited the improving job market as a key reason it is considering raising its benchmark interest rate for the first time in nearly a decade. Ostensibly, the move should be welcomed as a sign of confidence in the U.S. recovery.
But many analysts believe a rate increase would also signal that the Fed has reached the limit of its powers, a tacit acknowledgement that years of controversial easy-money policies have not been able to generate more definitive results. Wage growth is stagnant, and inflation has been mysteriously low.
In addition, if the Fed bungles the process of raising its benchmark interest rate — by moving too soon, too abruptly or too high — it could undermine the momentum in the economy.
“China is the 800-pound gorilla . . . but it’s not the only animal in the jungle,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. “The Fed contributed to the uncertainty that we’ve seen.”
Several top central bank officials have said they expect to raise the Fed’s interest rate this year, and Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart reiterated that stance in a speech Monday. Economists had widely expected the central bank to act in September.
But the sell-off has made investors increasingly dubious of those predictions, and a growing number of analysts believe the Fed will wait until the end of the year — or even until 2016. A slowdown in China could increase the strength of the U.S. dollar, which would make U.S. exports less competitive in the global marketplace. A stronger greenback could also keep a lid on inflation, which the Fed already fears is too low.
“Why would you want to add to the uncertainty?” said Jim Caron, fixed-income portfolio manager with Morgan Stanley Investment Management. “That could potentially be a game changer for the Fed’s move in September.”
The financial turmoil has battered the Dow and the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index so hard that both are now officially in what Wall Street calls a “correction,” meaning they have fallen at least 10 percent from a recent peak. And markets are bracing for more volatility in the days to come.
“A lot of questions are being asked by investors,” said Chris Weston, chief markets strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia. “This is a confidence game, and when you don’t have confidence, you press the sell button.”
Chico Harlan and Steven Mufson contributed to this report. Denyer reported from Beijing.