The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 1,000 points on Monday. This was the largest nominal decline in the history of the index, and the first time that the Dow has lost more than a thousand points in a single day of trading.
This means the Dow suffered its first-ever four-digit point loss just hours after the Super Bowl witnessed its first-ever four-digit offensive output. I am not suggesting causality here—I am insisting on causality here.
That’s a joke. But it’s no more serious than many of the attempts to explain the daily gyrations of the stock market, a public synthesis of millions of investment decisions by millions of people reacting to myriad news stories while guessing at the trading behavior of strangers they will never meet. Stock nosedives such as this create a vacuum of chaos and confusion into which creative theories flood, often unhelpfully. For example, CNBC hosts reportedly suggested that the market was “testing” Jerome Powell, the new chairman of the Federal Reserve. It seems unlikely that institutional investors coordinated a trillion-dollar pop quiz for Powell, just to test his reflexes.
There is a less creative explanation: There are some large-scale investors (such as brokerages with large accounts) that are nervous about incipient inflation due to clear signs of strong wage growth. These investors are also concerned that the Federal Reserve might raise rates, thus making it more expensive for companies to borrow and invest money. Higher inflation, higher wage growth, and less corporate investment would mean smaller profits for corporations. Since the stock market is fundamentally a collective bet on the future profitability of publicly traded companies, these factors would altogether predict that investors would be willing to pay less to own a share in a typical company than they were a week ago.