US stocks plunged as investors, fearful that rising interest rates and trade tensions could hurt company profits, ramped up their selling of high-flying technology and internet stocks.

Investors worried about the impact of trade tensions on corporate profits and Hurricane Michael's landfall in Florida adding to the uncertainty. (October 10, 2018)
Investors worried about the impact of trade tensions on corporate profits and Hurricane Michael's landfall in Florida adding to the uncertainty. (October 10, 2018) (Reuters)

Wall Street stocks plummeted Wednesday as worries about surging US interest rates and the impact of trade disputes prompted a broad-based selloff that slashed more than three percentage points from major indices.

The rout in US shares came on the heels of substantial losses on European bourses, due in part to tensions between Brussels and Rome over Italian budget plans that have revived fears about the eurozone.

"There are a number of worries for investors right now, from the pace of rising bond yields and the impact on investor sentiment, to Italy's populist coalition playing a game of chicken with the European Commission, stalling Brexit negotiations and the ongoing trade conflict between the US and China," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda trading group.

Many of the biggest US names fell hard, with Apple, Boeing and Facebook all slumping more than four percent and Amazon, Nike and Microsoft dumping more than five percent.

As Hurricane Michael pummeled Florida, Wall Street was battered by storms as well, with the Dow shedding about 830 points, in the biggest fall since February, to close the day at 25,498.74.

The tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index plummeted 4.1 percentage points to finish the session at 7,422.05, its worst fall in percentage terms since the surprise Brexit vote in June 2016.

The White House, which has touted Wall Street records as proof of the success of President Donald Trump's economic program, downplayed Wednesday's losses.

"The fundamentals and future of the US economy remain incredibly strong," press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

Citing low unemployment and strong business confidence, Sanders said, "President Trump's economic policies are the reasons for these historic successes and they have created a solid base for continued growth."

But analysts were more concerned.

"The selling is not panicking, but it's persistent," Briefing.com analyst Patrick O'Hare said of the proceedings. "It's all about investors rethinking their exposure to stocks."

O'Hare attributed the losses to worries about higher interest rates, but also cited a "broad-scale deterioration in sentiment" as investors realized that the pullback on Wall Street failed to prompt bargain hunting that would stabilised prices, as has been the norm in recent years.

Stocks have been under pressure since the yield on 10-year US Treasury bonds jumped above three percentage points last week, a sudden move that raised fears of an overheating economy, speeding inflation and more aggressive Federal Reserve interest rate increases.

Last week's jump in yields followed strong US data, but many analysts have been anticipating dynamics in the bond market to change due to expectations that central banks in Europe and Japan will soon phase out bond-buying programs.

"It's shifting the tectonic plates," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Wealth Advisors.

He said the rising appeal of bond investments would be a challenge for stocks in the foreseeable future as capital moves out of riskier equities.

And while stocks could get a boost from strong corporate earnings, there are concerns the US trade conflicts will start to undermine profits.

Tokyo stocks drop

Tokyo stocks dropped nearly two percent at the opening Thursday following a plunge in New York, as US traders fretted about surging interest rates and the safe-haven yen climbed against the dollar.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index was down 1.94 percent or 457.03 points at 23,049.01 in early trade, while the broader Topix index was down 1.90 percent or 33.49 points at 1,730.37.

European luxury shares slump

The turmoil came a day after the International Monetary Fund slashed its global growth forecast on worries about trade wars and weakness in emerging markets.

Bourses in Paris and Frankfurt both lost more than two percentage points, while London fell 1.3 percentage points.

In Europe this week, the closely-watched spread between the rates on 10-year bonds in Italy compared with those offered by Germany, which is a measure of the added risk perceived by investors to holding onto Italian debt, hit the highest level since April 2013.

Markets have been shaken by a row between Brussels and Rome, who are at loggerheads after Italy's populist government passed a purse-busting budget last week to the annoyance of the EU.

Neil Wilson, an analyst with Markets.com, said he detected a "smattering of fear" across markets, with the main drag on equities coming from tech stocks.

Shares in European luxury companies also lost much of their shine as investors feared that any slowdown in global economic growth will translate into dwindling sales for high-end firms. In Paris, shares in Kering fell nearly 10 percent, LVMH over seven percent and Hermes around five percent.

In other markets, oil prices fell on worries that Hurricane Michael will dent demand for gasoline and other petroleum products.

Source: AFP