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5 Reasons Why the Dow Suffered a 200-Point Nosedive Today

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:20 PM
Josiah Wilmoth
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:20 PM
  • The Dow opened to modest gains before suffering a near-sudden downturn.
  • The sell-off gathered steam, and by late afternoon, the DJIA had lost more than 230 points.
  • Here are five reasons why the stock market soured so quickly.

Monday looked to bring a slight recovery to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which opened to modest gains that carried the index back toward all-time highs.

But the rally didn’t hold, and by the afternoon, the Dow had careened toward its second straight triple-digit loss.

Dow Lurches Toward 2nd Straight Big Loss

dow jones industrial average chart
The Dow suffered a stark reversal shortly after the markets opened. | Source: Yahoo Finance 

Shortly before Monday’s closing bell, the Dow had lost 233.77 points or 0.83%. The index currently sits at 27,817.64 – nearly 300 points below its session high.

The Nasdaq and S&P 500 also incurred losses, sliding 0.73% and 1.05%, respectively.

5 Catalysts for Today’s Stock Market Sell-Off

Here are five primary catalysts that may have contributed to the stock market’s sell-off today.

1. A vital US economic indicator plunged worse than expected.

Dismal economic data served as the immediate catalyst for the stock market’s steep plunge.

ISM Manufacturing PMI
The US manufacturing sector continues to struggle, putting pressure on the Dow. | Source: Trading Economics 

The US manufacturing sector has struggled to mitigate the damage from the US-China trade war.

Economists expected today’s ISM Manufacturing PMI reading  to come in below 50 – indicating another contraction – but the scale of that decline far outstripped analyst fears.

Manufacturing PMI printed a 48.1, missing the forecast of 49.2 by a considerable margin.

2. That might mean a recession is coming.

While a Manufacturing PMI contraction was expected, it incited renewed recession warnings. This index has now contracted for four straight months.

In the past, this has been a reliable – though by no means ironclad – leading indicator of an economic downturn.

Dow Jones, manufacturing recession
Source: Twitter 

This indicator has produced a number of false positives, but other red flags – including the yield curve inversion earlier in the year – may embolden Dow Jones bears who believe investors had grown irrationally optimistic in recent weeks.

3. A top Trump official says the White House won’t back away from tariff cliff.

US Manufacturing may be struggling, but the Trump administration doesn’t appear to be ready to cave to China’s tariff rollback demands just to provide the increasingly-insignificant sector  with some support.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business that President Trump has “made quite clear” that he’ll hike tariffs  on Chinese imports if the Dec. 15 deadline passes without a trade deal.

Ross said,

Well, you have a logical deadline Dec. 15. If nothing happens between now and then, the president has made quite clear he’ll put the tariffs in – the increased tariffs.

He added that the Dec. 15 deadline is well-placed because it shouldn’t interfere with this year’s Christmas shopping season.

It’s great that he has the hammer of December 15 because that’s a real hammer. It won’t interfere with this year’s Christmas. Nobody’s reordering stuff after the 15th of December. Retailers have stocked up, so it’s a very good time if we have to put more tariffs on.

4. That threat puts the already-fraught US-China trade talks in peril.

President Trump recently said that the US and China are in the “final throes”  of trade negotiations.

Unfortunately for stock market bulls, Axios reported on Sunday that US negotiators aren’t optimistic that a deal will arrive  before “year-end at the earliest.”

If Commerce Secretary Ross should be believed, that means the Dec. 15 tariffs will likely take effect as planned.

More than just rankle investors, there’s a very real risk that tariff hikes make US-China relations a bit more frosty, instead of accomplishing the intended goal of twisting Beijing’s arm.

5. Trump’s “trade deals” don’t hold much clout anyway.

Finally, all this talk about the trade war’s impact on the Dow Jones obscures an uncomfortable truth: A US-China trade deal might not mean as much as investors think.

According to ING economist Timme Spakman, Trump’s  announcement that he would reimpose steel and aluminum tariffs on Brazil and Argentina reveals that the president’s trade deals “are of limited value” and “can be discarded when the political winds shift.”

donald trump, steel tariffs, impact on dow jones
Source: Twitter 

It’s not the first time Trump has apparently reneged on a deal with a Latin American trade partner. Shortly after negotiating the USMCA trade deal, Trump threatened to impose new tariffs on Mexico  unless the United States’ southern neighbor took a harder stance against illegal immigration.

Consequently, the Brazil and Argentina tariffs represent the latest incident in a worrisome pattern, and Spakman concludes that China might be growing skeptical about the outlook for trade relations with the US.

China will be watching this closely and asking itself just how far it wants to go in negotiations with Trump, knowing that a deal could very well be short-lived.

Perhaps investors should take note too.