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Sliding bank shares drag Wall Street in choppy trading

Biden vows to do 'whatever is needed' to keep banking system safe

Some analysts say the Fed may pull back on rate hikes after bank failures.   © Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Sliding bank shares dragged Wall Street on Monday with investors worried about contagion from the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, but trade was choppy and some sectors benefited from hopes the Federal Reserve could ease up on interest rates hikes.

SVB Financial's sudden shutdown on Friday after a failed capital raise had investors worried about risks to other banks from the Fed's sharp rate hikes over the last year. But many speculated the central bank could now become less hawkish, and the yield on the two-year Treasury tumbled.

Regulators over the weekend stepped in to restore investor confidence in the banking system, saying SVB's depositors will have access to their funds on Monday.

To some investors, the Fed's decision next week will also hinge on inflation data due this week.

"If we get shockingly bad consumer price index and producer price index, the Fed is going to find itself in a tough spot or a much tougher spot that it even finds itself in ahead of those prints," said Orion Advisor Solutions Chief Investment Officer Timothy Holland.

According to preliminary data, the S&P 500 lost 5.82 points, or 0.16%, to end at 3,855.54 points, while the Nasdaq Composite gained 49.74 points, or 0.45%, to 11,188.63. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 86.66 points, or 0.27%, to 31,822.08.

The benchmark S&P 500 is now up about 1% for the year so far. Earlier in the session it fell, briefly erasing all the year-to-date gains.

The CPI data is due on Tuesday, and the PPI on Wednesday.

The defensive utilities sector was among the best performing of the 11 major S&P sectors, while interest-rate-sensitive groups such as real estate and technology also climbed.

"The market is now expecting that the Fed is likely to not raise rates this month and so they may enter a pause period," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities.

Shares of SVB's peer Signature Bank, which was also shut down by regulators, were halted. Nasdaq said they would remain so until the exchange's request for additional information was "fully satisfied."

President Joe Biden vowed to do whatever was needed to address the threat to the banking system.

First Republic Bank fell sharply as news of fresh financing failed to reassure investors, and so did Western Alliance Bancorp and PacWest Bancorp. Trading in the stocks was halted several times.

Weighing on the S&P 500, Charles Schwab tumbled upon resuming trade after the financial services company reported a 28% decline in average margin balances and a 4% fall in total client assets for February.

Shares of big U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo all lost ground.

The CBOE Volatility Index, known as Wall Street's fear gauge, ticked higher.

Traders are now largely pricing in a 25 basis point rate hike from the Fed in March, with bets that the central bank will hold interest rates at their current level standing at 31.4%.

Among individual stocks, Pfizer was up after the drugmaker said it would buy Seagen for nearly $43 billion.

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