Stocks and bond yields were battered Tuesday as investors’ worries about the pace of economic growth and the White House sent out confusing signals about the trade truce.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by about 798 points or 3.09 percent. The S&P 500 plummeted 3.23 percent. The Nasdaq Composite plunged 3.8 percent, pulling it back down below a 10 percent decline from its recent high. The small-cap Russell 2000 dropped by 4.4 percent.
Investors bought up bonds, pushing prices up and yields down. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to a recent 2.912% from 2.990% Monday. The yield hit a seven-year high of 3.232% on November 8.
The gap between the tw0 and 10-year Treasury notes narrowed to just 8-tenths of a percentage point, the slimmest gap since 2007. Yield on the 5-year Treasury were again below those for 2-year and 3-year Treasuries, an inversion of the ordinary term structure that many investors fear could foreshadow an economic slowdown.
The gap between three-month and 10-year Treasuries fell to 49-tenths of a percentage point but remained in positive territory. Prior to every recession, this has turned negative.
Conflicting signals about the 90-day tariff truce with China added to investor worries. Larry Kudlow, the chief White House economic adviser, initially said Monday that the clock on the 90-day truce would begin on January 1, upsetting expectations that it had begun on December 1. Hours later the White House reversed itself, saying the clock did indeed begin running on December 1.
Adding to the confusion, President Donald said Sunday that China’s car tariffs would be removed but China has not confirmed this. Similarly, Kudlow said Monday that he expected China to begin changing its trade policies immediately but as of Tuesday no changes have been announced. China has also not detailed what American goods it would be purchasing to fulfill its side of the deal struck Saturday night in Buenos Aires.
Several investors said the lack of details about the trade truce, and already emerging differences between the U.S. and China about what has already been agreed, fueled doubts that a lasting deal could be struck. President Trump’s tweets, describing himself as a Tariff Man, helped fuel those doubts.