U.S. stocks plunge to hit 20-month low in worst Christmas Eve on record

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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, Monday, Dec. 24, 2018.Seth Wenig/AP Photo

U.S. stocks fell to the lowest since April 2017 as the turmoil in Washington rattled financial markets anew, pushing the S&P 500 to the brink of a bear market. Crude sank below US$45 a barrel and the dollar tumbled.

The S&P 500 plunged almost 3 per cent to end at a 20-month low, in what was the worst final session before the Christmas holiday on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It was the busiest Christmas Eve since 2010, with more than 1.7 billion shares changing hands in the truncated session.

“The more volatile things get the more volume surges,” Michael Antonelli, equity sales trader at Robert W. Baird, said in an email. “People don’t care it’s a session before Christmas when the U.S. equity market is acting like this.”

The S&P 500 notched a fourth straight drop of at least 1.5 per cent, a run of futility not seen since August 2015. It’s now down more than 19.8 per cent from its September record and on pace for the worst monthly drop since 2008. Trading was 41 per cent above the 30-day average in a session that’s normally subdued ahead of the Christmas holiday. The stock market closed at 1 p.m.

Investors looking to Washington for signs of stability that might bolster confidence instead got further rattled. President Donald Trump blasted the Federal Reserve, blaming the central bank for the three-month equity rout days after Bloomberg reported he inquired about firing the chairman.

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