By David French
Sept 20 (Reuters) - Wall Street closed down on Tuesday as traders, already cautious of making new bets on the eve of a U.S. Federal Reserve meeting expected to bring another large interest rate hike, absorbed further evidence of inflation slowing American business.
The benchmark S&P 500 index .SPX has dropped this year as investors fear aggressive policy tightening measures by the Fed could tip the U.S. economy into a recession.
It closed for the third straight session below 3,900 points - a level considered by technical analysts as a strong support for the index - as last week's dire outlook from delivery firm FedEx Corp FDX.N was repeated, this time by automaker Ford Motor Co F.N.
Shares of Ford slumped after it flagged a bigger-than-expected $1 billion hit from inflation and pushed delivery of some vehicles to the fourth quarter due to parts shortages.
Rival General Motors Co GM.N also sank.
"We have seen some bellwethers talk about the pressures they are facing, so we could see some margin compression and some softening in the topline numbers in the third-quarter earnings," said Greg Boutle, head of U.S. equity & derivative strategy at BNP Paribas.
The U.S. central bank is widely expected to hike rates by 75 basis points for the third straight time at the end of its policy meeting on Wednesday, with markets also pricing in a 17% chance of a 100 bps increase and predicting the terminal rate at 4.49% by March 2023. FEDWATCH
Focus will also be on the updated economic projections and dot plot estimates for cues on policymakers' sense of the endpoint for rates and the outlooks for unemployment, inflation and economic growth.
Adding to a mixed set of economic data, a Commerce Department report showed residential building permits USBPE=ECI - among the more forward-looking housing indicators - slid by 10% to 1.517 million units, the lowest level since June 2020.
The benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury yield US10YT=RR hit 3.56%, its highest level since April 2011, while the closely watched yield curve between two-year and 10-year notes US2US10=TWEB inverted further. US/
An inversion in this part of the yield curve is viewed as a reliable indicator that a recession will follow in one to two years.
"There are a lot of headwinds to prevent sustained rallies. It's hard to have (price-to-earnings) expansion while the Fed is tightening," said BNP's Boutle.
According to preliminary data, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 43.61 points, or 1.12%, to end at 3,856.28 points, while the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC lost 107.87 points, or 0.94%, to 11,427.15. The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 306.89 points, or 0.99%, to 30,712.79.
All of the 11 major S&P sectors declined, with economy-sensitive real estate .SPLRCR and materials .SPLRCM sectors among the biggest falls.
Meanwhile, in another sign of nerves around future corporate earnings, Nike Inc NKE.N fell after it was downgraded by Barclays analysts to "equal weight" from "overweight", citing volatility in the Chinese market due to pressures from COVID-related lockdowns in early September.
(Reporting by Devik Jain and Ankika Biswas in Bengaluru and David French in New York; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, Maju Samuel and Lisa Shumaker)
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