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Stocks fall as S&P 500 closes out cruelest month in 2 years

U.S. stocks sank again on Wednesday and cemented February as the worst month for the market in two years.

Not only was the month’s loss sharp, at 3.9 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, it was also the first in a long time. S&P 500 index funds snapped a record-setting run where they had made money for 15 straight months, including dividends.

Some of Wednesday’s drop was due to a slide in the price of oil, which sent energy stocks to the market’s sharpest losses. The S&P 500 fell 30.45 points, or 1.1 percent, to 2,713.83, while the Dow Jones industrial average lost 380.83, or 1.5 percent, to 25,029.20 and the Nasdaq composite dropped 57.35, or 0.8 percent, to 7,273.01.

The dominant fear for the month was the threat of higher inflation and interest rates. Concerns got so high that the S&P 500 spiraled down 10 percent in just nine days at one point, before trimming some of its losses. The index had five losses of 1 percent or more in February, more than it did in all of last year.

Expect even more swings in coming weeks and months, said Brian Peery, portfolio manager at Hennessy Funds. Investors are trying to figure out how many times the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year in the face of a growing economy.

“We were without volatility for so long, but what’s in motion tends to stay in motion,” Peery said. “It’s been a pretty tumultuous month.”

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