Stocks Fall as Investors Weigh Debt Ceiling, Evergrande

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A selloff in

Facebook

stock and shares of other big technology companies rippled through the market, pushing major U.S. indexes toward steep declines to start the week.

Stocks opened with mild declines before losses quickly accelerated. The S&P 500 dropped 1.5%. The broad index closed last week down 2.2%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index declined around 2.4%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost around 380 points, or 1.1%.

Monday’s moves continued a recent trend of underperformance in big technology companies. Investors have fled shares of the highflying stocks as bond yields have lurched higher. Higher yields make tech companies’ outsize profits in the future less attractive.

After notching big gains since early 2020, the sector has been particularly volatile in recent sessions. Monday’s selloff puts the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite on track for its third drop of at least 2% since early September. 

Shares of Facebook tumbled around 5.9% on Monday, with its losses worsening midday. Facebook entities WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook weren’t accessible to users Monday morning, with users receiving error messages when trying to access the sites. Facebook’s whistleblower Frances Haugen is set to testify before Congress on Tuesday and has detailed vast problems with the social media company. Alphabet shares dropped 3.4%.

Netflix

lost 2.7%. All three have underperformed the S&P 500 over the past month.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note ticked up to 1.477%, from 1.464% Friday.

Monday’s moves continue a recent bout of volatility in the stock market. Investors are also watching negotiations in Congress closely, as lawmakers debate the debt ceiling ahead of a deadline this month to raise it so the government can pay its bills. Meanwhile, Democrats are considering scaling back the next spending package to improve its chances of being passed. The Biden administration is also set to unveil its China trade policy following a review of import tariffs.

“You’ve got a combination of uncertainty out of D.C., continued headlines out of China about Evergrande and against a backdrop where you’ve seen bond yields rise,” said David Stubbs, global head of investment strategy at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. “This should all eventually be manageable but this is the problem with policy uncertainty, especially about the world’s two largest economies.” 

In corporate news, Tesla shares rose around 1.3% after the auto maker reported record deliveries in the third quarter. Merck climbed 2%, after the pharmaceutical company said its antiviral pill was effective against Covid-19 in a late-stage trial. Vaccine makers slipped, with Moderna declining around 6.3% and

Novavax

down 2.1%.

Shares of China Evergrande and its property-management unit halted trading in Hong Kong on Monday. The subsidiary said this was pending an announcement about a possible takeover bid

Another Chinese developer, Hopson Development, also halted its shares. It said this was pending an announcement about a transaction involving an unnamed Hong Kong-listed target company. 

“While this could provide some shorter-term funding, markets are still going to question what the longer-term picture is for the company,” said

Kiran Ganesh,

a multiasset strategist at UBS Asset Management. Evergrande carries more than $300 billion of liabilities that investors think it is unlikely to pay. 

Evergrande, China’s most indebted property developer, has kept markets on edge.

In commodities market, oil prices surged as OPEC and a Russia-led group of oil produced agreed to continue increasing production in measured steps, deciding against opening the taps more widely. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, rose around 2.4% to $77.71 in recent trading.

Overseas, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 slid around 0.5%. Volvo Cars said it was planning an initial public offering and expects to list its class B shares on the Nasdaq Stockholm exchange.

In Asia, most major benchmarks pulled back. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 2.2%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index declined 1.1%. Markets in mainland China are closed until Friday for the Golden Week holiday.  

Investors are watching negotiations in Congress closely, as lawmakers debate the debt ceiling.



Photo:

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Write to Anna Hirtenstein at anna.hirtenstein@wsj.com and Gunjan Banerji at gunjan.banerji@wsj.com.

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