Stock market drops amid China property market fears

FILE - The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) stands in lower Manhattan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Stocks were down across the board Monday as concerns over  China's property market grew. 

The S&P 500 was down 1.3% in the early going. The benchmark index hasn’t had a decline of more than 1% since mid-August.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 572 points, or 1.7%, to 34,012 and the Nasdaq fell 2.3%. Smaller company stocks were among the biggest losers. The Russell 2000 fell 2.7%.

Technology companies led the broader market lower. Apple fell 2.3% and chipmaker Nvidia shed 3.7%.

Chinese real estate developer Evergrande's shares tumbled more than 15% Monday.  There were concerns the company would not be able to make a debt payment later this week. 

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European markets were also down about 2%. The yield on the 10-year Treasury dropped to 1.32% as investors turned to lower-risk assets.

Futures were under pressure Monday morning ahead of the Federal Reserve’s upcoming, two-day policy meeting. 

Banks posted big losses as bond yields slipped. That hurts their ability to charge more lucrative interest rates on loans. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.32% from 1.37% late Friday. Bank of America fell 3.1%.

Oil prices fell 1.5% and weighed down energy stocks.

Utilities and other sectors that are considered less risky held up better than the rest of the market.

There were few bright spots in the broader market. Pfizer rose 0.9% after saying its vaccine works for children ages 5 to 11 and that it will seek U.S. authorization for that age group soon.

The worries over Chinese property developers and debt recently centered on Evergrande, one of China’s biggest real estate developers, which looks like it may be unable to repay its debts.

Many analysts say they expect China’s government to prevent a blowup serious enough to cause losses to cascade through markets. But any hint of uncertainty may be enough to upset Wall Street, after the S&P 500 has glided higher in almost uninterrupted fashion since October.


The Hang Seng, Hong Kong’s main index, dropped 3.3% for its biggest loss since July. Many other markets in Asia were closed for holidays. European markets fell about 2%.

"What's happened here is that the list of risks has finally become to big to ignore," said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors. "There’s just a lot of uncertainty at a seasonally challenging time for markets."

Besides Evergrande, several other worries have been lurking underneath the stock market’s mostly calm surface. The Federal Reserve may soon announce it’s letting off the accelerator on its support for the economy, Congress may opt for a destructive game of chicken before allowing the U.S. Treasury to borrow more money and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to weigh on the global economy.

Regardless of what the biggest cause for Monday’s market swoon was, some analysts said such a decline was due. The S&P 500 hasn’t had even a 5% drop from a peak since October, and the nearly unstoppable rise has left stocks looking more expensive and with less room for error.

All the concerns have pushed some on Wall Street to predict upcoming drops for stocks. Morgan Stanley strategists said Monday that conditions may be ripening to cause a fall of 20% or more for the S&P 500. They pointed to weakening confidence among shoppers, the potential for higher taxes plus inflation to eat into corporate profits and other signs that the economy’s growth may slow sharply.

Even if the economy can avoid that worse-than-expected slowdown, Morgan Stanley’s Michael Wilson said stocks could nevertheless drop about 10% as the Fed pares back on its support for markets. The Fed is due to deliver its latest economic and interest rate policy update on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Stifel strategist Barry Bannister said he expects a drop of 10% to 15% for the S&P 500 in the final three months of the year. He cited the Fed’s tapering of its support, among other factors. So did Bank of America strategist Savita Subramanian, as she set a target of 4,250 for the S&P 500 by the end of the year. That would be a 4.1% drop from Friday’s close.

Investors will have a chance for a closer look at how the slowdown affected a wide range of companies when the next round of corporate earnings begins in October. Solid earnings have been a key driver for stocks, but supply chain disruptions, higher costs and other factors could make it more of a struggle for companies to meet high expectations.

"The market’s biggest strength this year could become its biggest risk," Arone said.

With the Associated Press