Ongoing worries about the health of the Chinese economy and another big sell-off in drug manufacturers pushed the US stock market back towards its lowest level of the year.
Energy and raw material companies dropped on reports that industrial profits at Chinese companies fell sharply in August, heightening worries about a slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy.
And healthcare stocks fell sharply as drug makers extended a decline that began last week.
Stocks have fallen sharply in August and September amid concerns that a slowdown in China is worse than previously thought and is spreading to other emerging market economies.
The slowdown could start hurting US companies that rely on overseas demand for a large portion of their profits.
“Whenever the market is down, the first place to look these days is China,” said John Manley, chief equity strategist at Wells Fargo Fund Management.
“Right now, we need evidence that China is not slowing that much and that profits are still going to be okay.”
The Standard and Poor’s 500 index slipped 49.57 points, or 2.6%, to 1,881.77. The index is now 14 points above its lowest level of the year, set on August 25.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 312.78 points, or 1.9%, to 16,001.89. The Nasdaq composite slumped 142.53 points, or 3%, to 4,543.97.
Monday’s slump put the S and P 500 index back in a “correction”, a Wall Street term meaning a drop of 10% or more from a recent peak. The index is down 11.7% from its record close of 2,130.82, set in May this year.
Some analysts expressed surprise at the ferocity of the sell-off, given the relative strength of the US economy. Hiring is coming back and the housing the market is recovering.
“The economy here is still improving. There’s no reason that this selling pressure should be as severe as it has been,” said Robert Pavlik chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth.
Health care stocks are another weak link in the market.
A sell-off in drug manufacturers extended into a second week. The Nasdaq Biotechnology index dropped 6%, its worst day in more than four years.
The sector – a recent favourite of investors – slumped last week after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced a plan to tackle rising drug costs. The sector has plunged 27% since reaching a peak in July.
Congressional Democrats are also pressing a Republican committee chairman to force Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a Canadian drug maker, to turn over documents tied to price hikes imposed earlier this year. The company’s US-listed stock plunged 32.97 US dollars, or 17%, to 166.50 dollars.
Alcoa was among the stocks that bucked the trend and closed higher.
The metals maker gained after announcing that it will split into two independent companies. Its bauxite, aluminium and casting operations will be in one company and its engineering and transportation businesses will be in another. The company’s stock rose 52 cents, or 6%, to 9.59 dollars.
In addition to concerns about the outlook for growth in China, investors have also been worried about US interest rates.
Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he expects policy makers to raise rates this year.
The Fed has kept short-term rates close to zero for almost seven years to help the economy recover from the financial crisis.
In Europe, Volkswagen resumed its slide.
The car maker’s stock fell 7% as German prosecutors opened an investigation against the company’s former CEO, Martin Winterkorn.
The probe aims to determine who was responsible for selling vehicles with manipulated emissions data, prosecutors in Germany said in a statement.
The stocks of other European car manufacturers, including BMW, Daimler and Fiat Chrysler also fell sharply.
US government bond prices rose, pushing the yield on the 10-year Treasury note down to 2.10% from 2.16% on Friday. The euro was little changed from Friday at 1.1201 dollars and the dollar fell 0.7% to 119.9 yen.
The price of oil fell sharply on concerns that weak global economic conditions would reduce demand for energy. US crude fell 1.27 dollars to close at 44.43 dollars a barrel in New York.
Brent Crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many US refineries, fell 1.26 dollars to close at 47.34 dollars in London.