Business

Stocks plunge into the red then rebound as uncertainty returns to markets

Stock markets plunged into the red before recovering to finish the day in positive territory, as fears over war in Ukraine and higher interest rates in the U.S. and Canada took investors on a wild ride.

Prospect of rate hikes and conflict in Ukraine take investors on wild ride

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York on Dec. 31, 2021. Fear and uncertainty have returned to stock markets in a big way in recent days. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Stock markets plunged into the red before recovering to finish the day in positive territory on Monday, as fears over war in Ukraine and higher interest rates in the U.S. and Canada took investors on a wild ride.

Early in the afternoon, the Dow was off by more than 1,000 points, or about three per cent, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq was faring even worse as investors worried about the prospect of war in Ukraine.

"What really sparked the sell-off today is the fact that we seem to be marching inexorably towards a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia," Dennis Mitchell, CEO of Toronto-based investment firm Starlight Capital, said in an interview.

Canadian shares were not exempt from the sell-off, as the benchmark Canadian index was on track for its worst day in months, down more than 600 points, or three per cent at one point.

In the afternoon, however, the market changed direction and investors started buying up shares. All three major U.S. stock groupings, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, finished the day in positive territory.

"The selling that you're seeing today is usually a good indication that this is a good buying moment," Mitchell said.

After falling nearly three per cent by midday, the TSX mounted a comeback of its own in the afternoon but fell short of reversing its losses, and closed the day down 50 points to 20,571.

Dianne Swonk, chief economist with Grant Thornton, said the pandemic has been a time of unprecedented volatility for almost two solid years now, and that can sometimes result in wild swings for stock prices.

"This is giving us a lot of turbulence out there," she said in an interview, "and the problem is it it ups the uncertainty at a time when uncertainty is already high."

Higher rates coming

Prior to Monday's trading, the major event of the week was slated to be the Bank of Canada's interest rate decision on Wednesday. Expectations are growing that central banks will soon have to raise their interest rates to keep a lid on inflation, which has run up to the highest level we've seen in decades lately.

All things being equal, higher interest rates are bad news for stocks because they raise the cost of borrowing. That gives companies and investors less of an incentive to borrow to invest.

Currently, the market is pricing in about a 60 per cent chance of a rate hike in Canada as soon as this week. If one doesn't come this time around, it's a near certainty to happen next time the bank meets in March, according to trading in investments known as swaps.

Swonk said some of the uncertainty comes from figuring out how central banks are going to try to find the right balance between keeping a lid on inflation but also not harming the economy that is still being hit by Omicron.

"They don't want to put the flame out on the economy, but they certainly want to cool it off a bit," Swonk said. "That's left many people unsure of how fast rates will go up."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pete Evans

Senior Writer, CBCNews.ca

Pete Evans is the senior business writer for CBCNews.ca. Prior to coming to the CBC, his work has appeared in the Globe & Mail, the Financial Post, the Toronto Star, Canadian Business Magazine and — believe it or not — Circuits Assembly Magazine. Twitter: @p_evans Email: pete.evans@cbc.ca Secure PGP: https://secure.cbc.ca/public-key/Pete-Evans-pub.asc

With files from Meegan Read and Jacqueline Hansen

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