US Stocks Fall Sharply Wednesday

(AP) -- Stocks were broadly lower in early trading on Wall Street on Wednesday, as investors focus on the Federal Reserve's policy meeting and the outlook for the economy as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

The S&P 500 was down 1.5% in early trading, dragged lower by technology stocks like Amazon and Facebook as well as materials and energy stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 1.5% as well, while the Nasdaq composite was down 1.1%.

Investors are waiting to hear from the Federal Reserve at around 2 p.m. Eastern Time today. The Fed is expected to keep its extremely supportive policy stance unchanged given the slow progress in vanquishing the pandemic, analysts said.

Along with the Fed, this is the busiest week so far of quarterly earnings reporting season for U.S. companies. Apple and Facebook will report their quarterly results after Wednesday's closing bell.

More than 100 companies in the S&P 500 are scheduled to tell investors this week how they fared during the last three months of 2020. As a whole, analysts expect S&P 500 companies to say their fourth-quarter profit fell 5% from a year earlier. That's a milder drop than the 9.4% they were forecasting earlier this month, according to FactSet.

Shares of GameStop soared 90% in early trading, as the video game retailer remains in a tug-of-war with Wall Street institutions and an activist community of mostly online investors. The online investors have bet that hedge funds have put too much money betting against the stock --- a concept known as selling "short." A pair of professional investment firms that placed big bets that GameStop's stock would crash have largely abandoned their positions.

Markets have meandered since last week as investors weighed solid corporate earnings results against renewed worries that troubles with COVID-19 vaccine rollouts and the spread of new variants of coronavirus might delay a recovery from the pandemic.

With the virus spreading like "wildfire" in parts of the world, the first half of the year might be "lost," Stephen Innes of Axi said in a commentary. " Some are even concerned that vaccines may not prove useful enough to eradicate the virus. And these concerns will continue to linger over markets like a dark cloud until vaccine distributions get ironed out, and a definitive drop in contagion levels can thoroughly support the vaccine efficacy results."

The reality that President Joe Biden's $1.9 billion stimulus package won't be "rubber stamped" by the U.S. Senate is also weighing on sentiment, Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a report.

The fate of Biden's plan to send $1,400 to most Americans and deliver other support for the economy remains uncertain given the slim majority of the Democrats in the Senate. But on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats are prepared to push ahead with the relief package, even if it means using procedural tools to pass the legislation without Republicans.