Stocks slide to begin the new year

The Dow started 2019 with a 375-point slide Wednesday.

Posted: Jan 2, 2019 9:25 AM

(CNN) -- It may be a new year, but the same fears are roiling markets.

The Dow started 2019 with a 375-point slide Wednesday. In recent trading the index was down about 225 points, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq fell around 1%.

Tech stocks like Microsoft (MSFT), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Apple (AAPL) were all under significant pressure. China-sensitive stocks such as Boeing (BA) and Caterpillar (CAT) slumped. Tesla (TSLA) plunged 9% after cutting vehicle prices by $2,000.

The selling started overseas, with Asian and European markets careening lower following the release of another weak economic report out of China. New data revealed that China's manufacturing sector contracted in December, an unsettling development for the world's second-largest economy. It is this second time this week that data has indicated China's huge manufacturing sector is shrinking.

"It is looking increasingly likely that the Chinese economy may come under greater downward pressure," said Zhengsheng Zhong, director of macroeconomic analysis at research firm CEBM Group, in a statement.

Regional manufacturing reports in the United States have also been weak lately. The ugly factory data only reinforces the economic slowdown fears at the heart of the Wall Street meltdown.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed 2.8% lower. The Shanghai Composite fell 1.2% and Australia's ASX dropped 1.6%. Japan's markets were closed for a public holiday.

In Europe, the UK's FTSE was down 1%, while France's CAC slipped 1.3% and Germany's DAX traded flat.

Global growth fears continue to rock commodities. US oil prices dropped another 1.5% to $44.70 a barrel on Wednesday. Copper declined 1%.

Despite a wild rebound during the last few days of the year, 2018 was the worst year for US stocks since the 2008 financial crisis. The S&P 500 nearly plunged into a bear market last week.

The VIX volatility index jumped another 5% on Wednesday. And the CNN Business Fear & Greed Index, a gauge of market sentiment, is flashing "extreme fear."

The US stock market had a handful of bad first trading days in recent years. The S&P 500 tumbled 1.5% to start 2016 on fears about China and crashing oil prices (sound familiar?). However, the index ended up recovering that year, closing nearly 10% higher on the year.

On the other hand, the S&P 500's 1.4% decline to start 2008 signaled real trouble ahead. The index ended up losing 38% that year as investors feared an outright collapse of the financial system.

The worst start to a year occurred during the Great Depression when the S&P 500 plummeted 7% on the first day of trading in 1932, according to Bespoke Investment Group.

Wall Street is now watching closely to see whether economic concerns translate into lower earnings -- the real driver of stock prices. Companies including FedEx (FDX) have already warned of trouble due to the softness from China. Last month, analysts cut their 2019 earnings forecasts on half of the companies in the S&P 500, according to FactSet.

"Earnings will undoubtedly slow in 2019 but to what extent?" Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, wrote to clients.

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