Wall Street sells off as worries mount ahead of earnings season

Oct 11 (Reuters) - Wall Street indexes continued their slide in Thursday's volatile session as investors worried about rising interest rates and braced for a trade war hit to corporate earnings a day ahead of the quarterly reporting season kickoff.

In its sixth consecutive day of declines, the S&P closed down 2.1 percent after shedding 3 percent in Wednesday's session. But at its session low, the benchmark fell 2.7 percent to its lowest level since early July.

The Nasdaq narrowly avoided confirming a correction. During the session, it fell as much as 10.3 percent from its Aug. 29 closing record high but ended the day 9.6 percent below the record.

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Scenes from Wall Street as markets plummet - Oct. 10-11
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Scenes from Wall Street as markets plummet - Oct. 10-11
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan in New York, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan in New York, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan in New York, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan in New York, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan in New York, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan in New York, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Trader Thomas Ferrigno works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. U.S. stocks are mostly lower in unsteady trading one day after their biggest drop since February. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Trader Jonathan Corpina, left, and specialist Michael Pistillo work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. The market's recent decline was set off by a sharp drop in bond prices and a corresponding increase in yields last week and early this week. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Specialist Anthony Rinaldi works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. The market's recent decline was set off by a sharp drop in bond prices and a corresponding increase in yields last week and early this week. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Trader Michael Capolino works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. The market's recent decline was set off by a sharp drop in bond prices and a corresponding increase in yields last week and early this week. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Trader Peter Mazza, left, works with trader Daniel Trimble on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. The market's recent decline was set off by a sharp drop in bond prices and a corresponding increase in yields last week and early this week. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
FILE- This Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, file photo shows a screen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shows the closing number of the Dow Jones industrial average. The last time the stock market was falling this much, this fast, earnings season came to the rescue. Earlier this year, a parade of companies lined up to report profits that were even fatter than Wall Street had forecast, which helped turn momentum and get stocks back on the upswing. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Trader Peter Tuchman works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. The market's recent decline was set off by a sharp drop in bond prices and a corresponding increase in yields last week and early this week. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Specialists Jay Woods, right, and Thomas McArdle work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. The market's recent decline was set off by a sharp drop in bond prices and a corresponding increase in yields last week and early this week. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. U.S. stocks fell for a sixth day, extending the longest losing streak of Donald Trump's presidency, as energy shares plunged and a rally in tech failed to lift the broader market. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A monitor displays Prudential Financial Inc. signage on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. U.S. stocks fell for a sixth day, extending the longest losing streak of Donald Trump's presidency, as energy shares plunged and a rally in tech failed to lift the broader market. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. U.S. stocks fell for a sixth day, extending the longest losing streak of Donald Trump's presidency, as energy shares plunged and a rally in tech failed to lift the broader market. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A monitor displays stock market information on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. U.S. stocks fell for a sixth day, extending the longest losing streak of Donald Trump's presidency, as energy shares plunged and a rally in tech failed to lift the broader market. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. U.S. stocks fell for a sixth day, extending the longest losing streak of Donald Trump's presidency, as energy shares plunged and a rally in tech failed to lift the broader market. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Investors worried that equity markets would have trouble recovering as rising interest rates coincide with uncertainty about how much earnings growth would be hurt by a U.S. trade war with China.

"People fear that it will be harder to snap back if we’re seeing a cyclical top in earnings with those two headwinds, which are not going away," said Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 545.91 points, or 2.13 percent, to 25,052.83, the S&P 500 lost 57.31 points, or 2.06 percent, to 2,728.37 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 92.99 points, or 1.25 percent, to 7,329.06.

After hitting an intraday high of 28.84, the CBOE Volatility Index, popularly known as the "fear gauge," ended the day up 2 points at 24.98, its highest close since Feb. 12.

"We saw a rally this morning, and that ended up being a suckers' rally. Then you had buy-the-dippers coming in here saying this was too much too fast," said Dennis Dick, proprietary trader at Bright Trading Llc In Las Vegas.

"Are we out of the woods here? I don't think so," he said. "You're going to see a lot of volatility in the next week or so."

The energy sector, pressured by a drop in oil prices, was the lead decliner, while insurers were some of the biggest losers in the financial sector a day after powerful Hurricane Michael slammed into Florida.

The S&P's 11 major sectors all ended the day in the red with only the communications services sector managing a decline of less than 1 percent.

Energy was the biggest loser with a 3.1 percent drop as oil prices hit two-week lows after an industry report showed a bigger-than-expected build in U.S. crude inventories.

The financial sector fell 2.9 percent, also hurt by a 2.7 percent drop in bank stocks a day before three of the biggest banks were to report quarterly results.

Wall Street expects S&P 500 companies to report third-quarter earnings growth of 21.3 percent for the third quarter according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv.

The technology sector, the biggest loser in Wednesday's sell-off, closed down 1.3 percent on Thursday.

Stocks had seen some support earlier in the session from U.S. data showing a smaller-than-anticipated rise in consumer prices as it helped ease fears of increasing inflation pressures.

The data helped push U.S. Treasury yields to a one-week low, further soothing equity investors.

But investors still faced a sea of worries, including uncertainty ahead of U.S. midterm congressional elections on Nov. 6, and hawkish comments last week from U.S. Federal Reserve officials.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 3.52-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.66-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted no new 52-week highs and 62 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 6 new highs and 291 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 11.44 billion shares, its highest level since Feb. and compared with the 7.65 billion-share average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

(Additional reporting by April Joyner, Caroline Valetkevitch in New York, Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)

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