Stocks close flat in wild session Friday that saw the S&P 500 briefly fall into a bear market

U.S. stock futures rose slightly Thursday night, as traders watched to see if the S&P 500 will tumble into bear market territory.

S&P 500 futures traded 0.2% higher, while Nasdaq 100 futures gained 0.4%. Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 55 points, or 0.2%.

Those moves came after another downbeat day on Wall Street. The Dow and Nasdaq, meanwhile, dipped 0.8% and 0.3%, respectively.

The S&P 500 fell 0.6% and is now 18.6% below a record closing high set in early January. The index is also more than 19% below an intraday all-time high reach earlier this year. At those levels, the benchmark index is within a stone’s throw of entering a bear market — defined by many on Wall Street as a 20% drop from a 52-week high.

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Stocks have been under pressure this week — with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq each losing more than 3% and the Dow falling 2.9% — as the latest quarterly figures from big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target raise concern about the health of the consumer and the ability for companies to deal with decades-high inflation. Target and Walmart are down sharply for the week after posting their quarterly results.

“While many cross-currents are causing the current sell-off, the proximate cause of the recent acceleration in the stock declines revolves around fears about the U.S. consumer,” Glenview Trust CIO Bill Stone wrote. “For the first time in the post-covid period, retailers have been stuck with some excess inventories. Costs due to inflation are also taking their toll on their earnings.”

“Lastly, there is evidence that the lower-end consumer is feeling the pinch from the increase in prices,” Stone said.

Ross Stores was the latest retailer to fall after posting earnings. The stock was down more than 22% in after-hours trading. CEO Barbara Rentler that, “following a stronger-than-planned start early in the period, sales underperformed over the balance of the quarter.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has signaled it will continue to raise interest rates as it tries to temper the recent inflationary surge. Earlier in the week, Chairman Jerome Powell said: “If that involves moving past broadly understood levels of neutral we won’t hesitate to do that.”

That tough stance on monetary policy has stoked concern this week that the Fed’s actions could tip the economy into a recession. On Thursday, Deutsche Bank said the S&P 500 could fall to 3,000 if there is an imminent recession. That’s 23% below Thursday’s close.

Stocks have struggled to find their footing for roughly two months, with the Dow on pace for its eight consecutive weekly decline. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq were headed for a seven-week losing streak.

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Sophie Tremblay

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