By Lewis Krauskopf and Devik Jain
(Reuters) – Wall Street’s main indexes slid on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 falling over 1%, after the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting last month showed officials felt the employment benchmark for decreasing support for the economy “could be reached this year.”
Stocks accelerated their declines late in the session, pushing the S&P 500 down about 1.8% from its record closing high after its second straight daily drop. It was the benchmark index’s single-day first drop of at least 1% since July 19.
Most S&P 500 sectors ended lower, with energy falling 2.4% and healthcare off 1.5%.
The minutes of the July 27-28 Fed meeting showed different groups worried about inflation and the need to prepare to combat it, with others saying it would take time, and require patience from the Fed, to put Americans back to work.
Investors are looking for signs about when the central bank will rein in its easy money policies, including tapering its bond-buying program, which have been a crucial support as the S&P 500 has roughly doubled from its March 2020 low.
“The Fed minutes did nothing to dispel the thought that tapering will begin soon,” said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia. “We are closer to the end than the middle of tapering, and people don’t know how to react to it.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 382.59 points, or 1.08%, to 34,960.69, the S&P 500 lost 47.81 points, or 1.07%, to 4,400.27 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 130.27 points, or 0.89%, to 14,525.91.
With the market in a period that has seasonally been weak historically, investors have said stocks may be due for a significant drop, with the S&P 500 yet to experience a 5% pullback this year.
Focus now shifts to the Fed’s annual research conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, next week for any read about the central bank’s next steps. Many analysts expect the Fed to announce its plan to taper asset purchases as early as the Sept. 21-22 policy meeting.
A rebound in the U.S. economy, including a stellar second-quarter corporate earnings season along with accommodative monetary policy has underpinned positive sentiment for equities.
“We have gotten a rash of both earnings and economic data over the past several weeks that broadly is pointing to a positive outlook for the fundamental backdrop to the market,” said Craig Fehr, investment strategist at Edward Jones. “The one wildcard at this stage is going to be the role Fed stimulus is going to play.”
In company news, shares of Lowe’s Cos Inc jumped 9.6% after the home improvement chain’s quarterly report. Lowe’s said professional builders and handymen were rushing back to its stores, boosting sales.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 2.43-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.46-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 28 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 50 new highs and 149 new lows.
About 8.8 billion shares changed hands in U.S. exchanges, below the 9.15 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions.
(Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf in New York and Devik Jain in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu, Maju Samuel and Aurora Ellis)