US President Donald Trump lambasted the Federal Reserve again, calling on the central bank not to raise interest rates a day before policymakers are due to meet. Markets widely expect the Fed to ignore the political pressure and announce its fourth rate hike of 2018.
With a volatile year drawing to a close, major US stock indices touched new lows while one fell into a "bear market" -- a potentially ominous moment when prices fall 20 percent from a recent peak.
Prominent US investor Jeffrey Gundlach touched off more bloodletting around midday after telling CNBC US equities probably were already in bear market territory.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 both fell 2.1 percent while the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 2.3 percent, with the latter two hitting new lows for the year.
The Nasdaq is now 16.7 percent below its August peak, inching toward a bear market as well.
Quincy Krosby of Prudential Financial told AFP the S&P 500 was approaching key technical levels that could trigger automated selling.
"Gundlach is considered an excellent manager," Krosby said. "He said that this market looked like a bear market and perhaps it would go lower."
Economic data released early Monday added to the growth concerns: a survey of manufacturing activity in the New York region showed an unexpected plunge while an index of sentiment among homebuilders also fell sharply.
And on Friday, a batch of dispiriting economic data from China added to Wall Street's jitters.
"This is the extension of everything that has bothered the markets for the last several weeks. The US economic news added to the selloff," said Karl Haeling of LBBW told AFP.
Retail woes in Britain
Earlier on Monday, major European stock markets also fell. London, already beset with Brexit concerns, took an additional knock after British online fashion retailer ASOS issued a profit warning.
London's blue-chip FTSE 100 fell 1.1 percent, as did the CAC 40 in Paris, while the DAX 30 in Frankfurt shed 0.9 percent.
The Bank of England will follow the US Fed on Thursday with its latest monetary policy decision.
ASOS chief executive Nick Beighton said November had been the "most difficult month relative to expectations for five years." He blamed Brexit, weak consumer confidence and deep price discounting for the shock warning.
The news sparked alarm among retailers already struggling with sales in their physical stores.
As a result, shares in British clothing group Next sank 4.9 percent while bellwether Marks & Spencer fell 4.6 percent.
"Looking more broadly this is also a potential warning sign for online retailers who have hitherto held up relatively well compared to traditional High Street chains in what has no doubt been a challenging year for the sector," said David Cheetham, chief market analyst at XTB online trading firm.
Asian stock markets meanwhile mostly closed higher Monday as traders looked ahead to the Fed and a Chinese economic policy-setting conference this week.
Key figures around 2200 GMT
New York - Dow: DOWN 2.1 percent at 23,592.98 (close)
New York - S&P 500: DOWN 2.1 percent at 2,545.94 (close)
New York - Nasdaq: DOWN 2.3 percent at 6,753.73 (close)
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 1.1 percent at 6,773.24 points (close)
Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.9 percent at 10,772.20 (close)
Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 1.1 percent at 4,799.87 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.9 percent at 3,063.65 (close)
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.6 percent at 21,506.88 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: FLAT at 26,087.98 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.2 percent at 2,597.97 (close)
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1362 from $1.1306
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 112.83 yen from 113.39 yen
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2613 from $1.2583 at 2200 GMT
Oil - Brent Crude: DOWN 67 cents at $59.61 per barrel
Oil - West Texas Intermediate DOWN $1.32 cents at $49.88.
Published : December 17, 2018
By : Agence France-Presse New York