By David French
(Reuters) - U.S. markets ended Monday lower, as investors spooked by better-than-expected data from the services sector re-evaluated whether the Federal Reserve could hike interest rates for longer, while shares of Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA ) slid on reports of a production cut in China.
The electric-vehicle maker slumped 6.4% on plans to cut December output of the Model Y at its Shanghai plant by more than 20% from the previous month.
This weighed on the Nasdaq, where Tesla was one of the biggest fallers, pulling the tech-heavy index to its second straight decline.
Broadly, indexes suffered as data showed U.S. services industry activity unexpectedly picked up in November, with employment rebounding, offering more evidence of underlying momentum in the economy.
The data came on the heels of a survey last week that showed stronger-than-expected job and wage growth in November, challenging hopes that the Fed might slow the pace and intensity of its rate hikes amid recent signs of ebbing inflation.
"Today is a bit of a response to Friday, because that jobs report, showing the economy was not slowing down that much, was contrary to the message which (Chair Jerome) Powell had delivered on Wednesday afternoon," said Bernard Drury, CEO of Drury Capital, referencing comments made by the head of the Federal Reserve saying it was time to slow the pace of coming interest rate hikes.
"We're back to inflation-fighting mode," Drury added.
Investors see an 89% chance that the U.S. central bank will increase interest rates by 50 basis points next week to 4.25%-4.50%, with the rates peaking at 4.984% in May 2023.
The rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee meets on Dec. 13-14, the final meeting in a volatile year, which saw the central bank attempt to arrest a multi-decade rise in inflation with record interest rate hikes.
The aggressive policy tightening has also triggered worries of an economic downturn, with JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM ), Citigroup (NYSE: C ) and BlackRock (NYSE: BLK ) among those that believe a recession is likely in 2023.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 482.78 points, or 1.4%, to close at 33,947.1, the S&P 500 lost 72.86 points, or 1.79%, to end on 3,998.84, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 221.56 points, or 1.93%, to finish on 11,239.94.
In other economic data this week, investors will also monitor weekly jobless claims, producer prices and the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment survey for more clues on the health of the U.S. economy.
Energy was among the biggest S&P sectoral losers, dropping 2.9%. It was weighed by U.S. natural gas futures slumping more than 10% on Monday, as the outlook dimmed due to forecasts for milder weather and the delayed restart of the Freeport liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plant.
EQT Corp (NYSE: EQT ), one of the largest U.S. natural gas producers, was the steepest faller on the energy index, closing 7.2% lower.
Financials were also hit hard, slipping 2.5%. Although bank profits are typically boosted by rising interest rates, they are also sensitive to concerns about bad loans or slowing loan growth amid an economic downturn.
Meanwhile, apparel maker VF Corp (NYSE: VFC ) dropped 11.2% - its largest one-day decline since March 2020 - after announcing the sudden retirement of CEO Steve Rendle. The firm, which owns names including outdoor wear brand The North Face and sneaker maker Vans, also cut its full-year sales and profit forecasts, blaming weaker-than-anticipated consumer demand.
Volume on U.S. exchanges was 10.78 billion shares, compared with the 11.04 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.
The S&P 500 posted six new 52-week highs and four new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 105 new highs and 133 new lows.
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