U.S. stocks dive after brutal holiday-shortened session

US ECONOMY. Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on December 07, 2018 in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America/Agence France-Presse

US ECONOMY. Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on December 07, 2018 in New York City.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America/Agence France-Presse

NEW YORK, USA – Wall Street stocks plunged for a 4 straight session Monday, December 24, amid rising doubts over the US economy after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's efforts to reassure investors fell flat.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped more than 650 points, or 2.9%, to 21,792.20.

The broad-based S&P 500 fell 2.7% to 2,351.10, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index slid 2.2% to 6,192.92. 

The declines brought the S&P 500 to the brink of a "bear market," considered a drop of 20% from its peak.

CNBC reported the losses were the worst ever for Wall Street on Christmas Eve, a holiday-shortened session ahead of Tuesday, December 25, when markets will be closed.

The drops also extended the December equity market battering, which last week led to the biggest weekly losses for the Dow and Nasdaq since the 2008 financial crisis.

The declines came as Mnuchin was widely panned by market watchers over a phone call with the 6 biggest US banks, reporting on Twitter that the 6 CEOs have "ample liquidity" available.

"It just raises more alarm bells for people 'that maybe there is something bigger going on' if it's necessary to have phone calls with the 6 biggest bank CEOs," said Manulife AM senior portfolio manager Nate Thooft.

Markets were also unnerved by weekend news reports that US President Donald Trump was weighing whether to fire Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, accounts that Mnuchin said Trump had denied.

"If Trump tries to remove Powell, it could throw the financial markets into deep chaos that makes the current market turmoil look tame," said a note from Oxford Economics.

Trump himself took another swipe at the Fed on Twitter, although he did not mention Powell by name.

"The only problem our economy has is the Fed. They don't have a feel for the Market, they don't understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders. The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can’t score because he has no touch - he can’t putt!" Trump tweeted.

Last week was the Dow and Nasdaq's worst since the 2008 financial crisis.

Key drivers included upset at the Federal Reserve's latest interest rate hike, the shock resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, the ongoing US-China trade war and a US government shutdown triggered Friday at midnight following unsuccessful budget negotiations between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats. – Rappler.com