S&P 500 and Nasdaq erase losses after bond market scare

After one-day respite, panic reignited over trade

By Anneken Tappe, CNN Business
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Traders work at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on in New York City.

(CNN) - The Dow and the broader US stock market had another volatile day as Wall Street investors fear the US-China trade war will inflict broad damage on the global economy.

After a one-day respite, panic has reignited over the trade war. Investors are pulling money out of stocks and buying up US bonds and gold as safe havens.

Nevertheless, stocks came off their lows and turned positive in the final hour of trading. Only the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite, however, managed to end the day in the green.

Economists at Rabobank are projecting a shallow global recession because the trade war is hurting financial markets, consumer confidence and the global economy. Rabobank reduced its worldwide growth projections below 3% on Wednesday.

The 10-year US government bond yield tumbled near a three-year low on Wednesday but moved up from its lows of the day. The 10-year last yielded 1.7122%. Bonds and yields move in opposite directions.

Gold was also a big winner amid Wednesday's uncertainty. Gold futures crossed the $1,500 an ounce threshold for the first time since 2013. Gold prices settled 2.4% higher at $1,507.30, and is up nearly 18% this year.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite clawed back their earlier losses and closed higher, up 0.1% and 0.4%, respectively. It was their second better finish in a row.

The Dow was the only one of the major stock indexes to finish the day lower, even though it edged into positive territory in the final hour of trading. The index closed down 0.1%, or 22 points. At its worst it was down 589 points Wednesday.

Monday was the worst day of the year for stocks, but the three stock benchmarks snapped a streak of multiday losses Tuesday.

Trouble brewing in the bond market

Global central banks' rate cuts are helping fuel bond buying too. Overnight, both the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and the Reserve Bank of India delivered steeper-than-expected rate cuts.

The US Federal Reserve cut rates last month for the first time in a decade. That helped precipitate the decline in long-term bond yields, although yields had been trending lower for some time.

"Whilst we can be sure that global central banks will step up to the plate to alleviate the impact of the trade war — most likely implying even lower interest rates across the board — the bottom line impact is likely to be negative for both growth and inflation," the Rabobank economists said.

That's a worrying sign: The yield curve, which plots the interest rates across the maturities of debt, is currently inverted. Shorter-term debt is paying higher rates than longer-term bonds, as investors remain fearful of a US recession. An inversion of the yield curve has preceded every recession.

Yields could continue to drop if President Donald Trump gets his way. Trump lashed out at the Federal Reserve on Twitter, saying the central bank was "too proud to admit their mistake of acting too fast and tightening too much." Trump called for "bigger and faster" rate cuts and said the yield curve "is at too wide a margin."

The yield curve, however, has flattened over the past years, and even inverted the most since 2007.

Further rate cuts from the Federal Reserve could even push the gold price past $1,650, said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a note.

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