Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., January 26, 2022.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., January 26, 2022. Reuters / BRENDAN MCDERMID

U.S. stock indexes dropped on Thursday in a broad sell-off as recession fears grew with moves by central banks around the globe to stamp out rising inflation after the Federal Reserve's largest rate hike since 1994.

The benchmark S&P 500 was on track for its sixth decline in seven sessions. Stocks rallied on Wednesday as the Fed delivered an aggressive 75 basis point rate hike, as anticipated. But subsequent rate hikes on Thursday from the central banks of Switzerland and Britain reignited fears that attempts by central banks to curb inflation could lead to sharply slower growth worldwide or a recession.

"It's just getting beaten down. This is a belief that the Fed is going to force a recession and they are just going to beat this market down until even high net worth investors cry uncle," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Capital Management in Chicago.

"It's also the put too," Ablin said, referring to the Fed intervention during the Great Financial Crisis to rescue risk takers. "It was in the interest of keeping the banking system together, but it started a relationship between risk takers and central banks and inflation is driving a wedge between them."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 847.47 points, or 2.76%, to 29,821.06, the S&P 500 lost 140.38 points, or 3.70%, at 3,649.61 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 505.61 points, or 4.56%, to 10,593.55.

Each of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower, although the defensive consumer staples was outperforming the broader market as names like WalMart, General Mills and Hormel Foods were among the few S&P 500 components to advance in the session. Growth stocks were hit hard with the S&P growth index down 4.32%.

Hopes the Fed could engineer a soft landing for the economy are fading and analysts at Wells Fargo not see a greater than 50% chance of a recession. Other banks that have warned of rising recession risks include Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley.

The benchmark index has slumped about 23% year-to-date and recently confirmed a bear market began on Jan. 3, while the Dow Industrials was on the cusp of confirming its own bear market.

The CBOE volatility index, also known as Wall Street's fear gauge, rose 14.21 points to 33.83, slightly below the one-month high of 35.05 touched earlier in the week. Many analysts are looking for the VIX to touch around 40 as one of the signals selling pressure may be reaching its apex.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by a 8.77-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 5.07-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted one new 52-week high and 97 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded seven new highs and 738 new lows.