Until very recently, the stock market seemed to defy gravity, producing double-digit returns that provided many Americans with financial comfort even as everything else crumbled around them. When the pandemic began upending society, the market sank for a few weeks and then recorded one of the greatest rallies in history.
Stock prices rose the day rioters breached the U.S. Capitol, and they were up during the week that protests roiled many American cities after the murder of George Floyd. During this time of great upheaval, the market seemed to flash a contrarian signal that things were going to be OK — economically, at least. But real world problems have finally crashed the stock market’s party.
Soaring inflation, fueled by rising food prices and the war in Ukraine, has prompted the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates significantly for the first time in many years, which has sent stock prices plummeting to earth. Stocks rose 2.4 percent on Friday, but not enough to make up for a week of declines. It was the sixth consecutive week of losses for the stock market, the first time that has happened since 2011.
The S&P 500, which has been flirting with a bear market, or a drop of 20 percent, is down more than 16 percent since its peak in January. It may fall further as inflation persists and a recession looms. Even after the bleeding stops, stock market investors, who include more than 50 percent of Americans, could face years of relatively meager returns that will leave them with substantially less money to pay for their children’s college education and support themselves in retirement.
This reckoning comes just months before the midterm elections, deepening problems for Democrats who are already struggling to convince voters that their party and President Joseph R. Biden are steering the economy on the right track. Dig deeper into the moment. Special offer: Subscribe for $1 a week. Former President Donald J. Trump often took credit for the stock market’s meteoric rise.
Now, Mr. Biden and his party will almost certainly take some of the blame for its recent fall. In reality, the stock market is not a perfect measure of the real economy. Unemployment is low and consumer spending is still holding up, but more than a month of punishing losses can damage the country’s financial psyche. “People look at the stock market as a barometer of the economy and how they are faring financially,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.
“They feel good when they see green on the screen and crummy when they see red.” Editors’ Picks The World’s a Mess. So They’ve Stopped Saving for Tomorrow. Michael Che Is Still Trying to Crack the Code An Outsider Takes an Inside Look at the Oxford ‘Chums’ Who Run the U.K. Years of low rates have been rocket fuel for stock prices, partly because other investments, like bonds, that are pegged to interest rates produce such minimal returns. The stock market became one of the few places where investors could make big money.