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Why did the stock market tumble today?

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After 19 years covering the stock market for USA TODAY, Adam Shell gives his best advice on how to successfully invest in the market.
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Stocks tumbled Friday as weak manufacturing reports in the U.S. and abroad sparked fresh worries about the global economy.

Another catalyst for the sell-off: a closely-watched signal of recession reared its head for the first time since the Great Recession.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 460.19 points, or about 1.8 percent, at 25,502.32. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 54.17, or 1.9%, to 2800.71, its worst loss since January 3.

A measure of U.S. manufacturing activity fell to a 21-month. And an index of manufacturing in the euro zone plunged to its lowest level since 2013, igniting new fears of recession in the region.

Meanwhile, the “yield curve” inverted for the first time since 2007. That means a Treasury bill that matures in three months is yielding 2.45 percent — slightly more than the yield of a Treasury note that matures in 10 years. Put simply, that means investors don’t have lots of confidence in the longer-term economic outlook.

Yet. “A flatter yield curve is the ‘new normal,'” economist Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics wrote in a note to client. That’s because inflation remains low and central banks around the world are holding down long-term rates. While the yield curve is still usually a predictor of recessions, they have occurred an average of two years before downturns since the 1980s, Daco says.

The sharp drop in stocks came despite Federal Reserve forecasts this week that it likely won’t raise interest rates at all this year.

Banks and technology companies led the declines, which wiped out the market’s gains for the week.

Citigroup led a slump in banks with a 4.9 percent loss as bond yields continue to drop, threatening the profitability of financial companies that make money from lending.

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Big technology companies, which would stand to lose more than other sectors in a slowing economy, fell more than the rest of the market. Hewlett-Packard fell 3 percent and Intel lost 2 percent.

Boeing gave up 2.3 percent after Indonesia’s flag carrier became the first airline to seek to cancel an order of 737 Max 8 jets, which have been involved in two fatal crashes in the past six months.

Nike, another component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, dropped 5.3 percent after reporting weak sales in North America. And Greenbrier, which makes railroad equipment, plunged 9.7 percent after releasing a dismal forecast.

Investors shifted money into lower-risk, high-dividend stocks. Utilities, real estate companies and makers of consumer products were the only sectors to rise.

Those sectors also became more attractive to investors seeking income as bond yields continued to fall.

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Key bond yields fell this week to their lowest levels in more than a year after the Federal Reserve said it was seeing slower growth in the economy and no longer expected to raise interest rates this year.

Investors are also buying bonds, sending yields lower, because they’re worried about slowing economic growth elsewhere in the world, especially Europe.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which is used to set rates on mortgages and many other kinds of loans, fell to 2.43 percent from 2.54 percent late Thursday, a big move. That’s down sharply from its recent high of 3.23 percent in early October.

In another worrying sign, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell below the yield on the three-month Treasury bill. When that kind of “inversion” in bond yields occurs, economists fear that it can signal a recession within the coming year. That signal isn’t always correct, however.

The stock market has seesawed from gains to losses throughout the week, but the S&P 500 index is still closing in on its second straight weekly gain and is up more than 12 percent for the year.

OVERSEAS: European stocks were broadly lower after surveys revealed a worsening manufacturing slowdown in the region. Britain’s FT-SE lost 1.6 percent and France’s CAC 40 gave up 1.5 percent.

ANALYST’S TAKE: Investors are rebalancing their holdings as they “digest the new reality” of slower growth, said Marina Severinovsky, investment strategist at Schroeders. “We’re sort of coming back to Earth,” she said.

Central banks have been positioning themselves to deal with the slowdown, she said, and that includes the Federal Reserve’s expectations for no rate increases this year.

Earlier this month the European Central Bank also took action to reassure investors by saying it would push back the earliest date for interest rate increases. It also said it would offer ultra-cheap loans to banks, supporting their ability to keep lending.

“It’s very positive that, not just the Fed, but other policy makers have acknowledged the situation is kind of dangerous on the global slowdown and are taking action,” Severinovsky said.

LOOSE LACES: Nike stumbled after disappointing sales in its vital North America market fell short of analysts’ forecasts and it warned of a sales slowdown.

The weak regional results overshadowed an otherwise solid third quarter for the athletic apparel maker, which is best known for its sneakers and athletic shoes. Revenue and profit grew during quarter, beating forecasts.

North American sales make up the majority of the company’s revenue and footwear is the largest driver of sales. The company faces constant competition from German rival Adidas, which has been working to gain a stronger foothold in North America.

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GOOD SPORT: Regional sporting goods retailer Hibbett Sports surged 23 percent after blowing away Wall Street’s fourth-quarter profit forecasts. The company reported profit of 57 cents per share while analysts expected 39 cents per share.

The company operates most of its stores Georgia, Texas and Alabama. The solid results were driven by increases in sales at existing stores and online. Hibbett’s profit forecast for the fiscal year was also well above Wall Street’s expectations.

Contributing: Associated Press

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