December 24, 2018 / 1:34 PM / 7 months ago

US STOCKS-Futures slide to start off holiday-shortened week

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* Futures drop: Dow 0.81 pct, S&P 0.78 pct, Nasdaq 0.73 pct

* Trump didn’t suggest firing Fed Chairman-Treasury Secretary

* Top 6 US banks’ CEOs tell Mnuchin they have enough liquidity

* “Plunge Protection Team” convenes for first time since 2009

* S&P’s worst Dec since Great Depression, Nasdaq in bear market

By Medha Singh

Dec 24 (Reuters) - U.S. stock futures fell on Monday, giving up slim gains from earlier as volumes picked up, with investors digesting a slew of news from Washington over the weekend amid the benchmark S&P 500’s worst December since the Great Depression.

At 8:03 a.m. ET, S&P 500 e-minis were down about 0.80 percent, with trading volume per minute ramping up roughly four times in the past hour. Dow e-minis fell 0.81 percent, while Nasdaq 100 e-minis declined 0.73 percent.

Trading volumes are expected to remain muted, with markets closing at 1:00 p.m. ET ahead of Christmas holiday on Tuesday, and that could exaggerate market movements.

A bruising December for the U.S. markets – triggered by concerns over a partial federal government shutdown, the U.S.-China trade dispute and interest rate hikes – has put the S&P 500 on pace for its biggest monthly percentage decline since 2008.

The Nasdaq is down nearly 22 percent from its record high close in late August and formally in a bear market. The S&P and Dow Jones Industrial Average are also not far off those levels, having sunk 17.5 percent and 16.3 percent, respectively, from their closing highs.

With the equity markets in free fall, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke with the chief executive officers of the six largest U.S. banks, who confirmed they have enough liquidity to continue lending and that “the markets continue to function properly.”

The drop in markets picked up last week after the Federal Reserve raised rates for the fourth time this year and said it would largely continue with its rate hike path and slim down its vast holdings of bonds, draining the easy money that has helped power the stock market’s decade-long bull run.

President Donald Trump has criticized the Fed for raising rates and reports over the weekend suggested he had privately discussed firing Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. Mnuchin later said Trump does not believe he has the power to remove Powell.

“It is unusual for the U.S. president to dictate the Federal Reserve and it is harmful for Trump to look into the ways of firing the chairman of the Fed. It will only shatter the market confidence further,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Think Markets UK Ltd.

Mnuchin will convene a call on Monday with the president’s Working Group on financial markets, which includes Powell and the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The group, formed following the stock market crash of October 1987, is known more commonly as the “Plunge Protection Team” and met in 2009 in the latter stages of the financial crisis.

Jake Dollarhide, CEO of Longbow Asset Management, said the Treasury and the Fed do not want to be caught off guard as they were during the 2008 housing crisis and financial crisis.

“We should feel comfort that there’s a system in place now to say, ‘Hey, we may be going through another recession. If the worst case scenario is about to happen, let’s make sure we aren’t the reason for it’,” said Dollarhide.

“Mnuchin is the perfect man for the job and I feel comfortable knowing he’s in there.”

Dollarhide said macro factors such as trade and slowing global economy were hurting the market more than Washington.

“It’s almost like death by a million paper cuts. There’s not one really big story, not one really big threat that threatens to derail us, derail our economy. Just a bunch of little things.” (Reporting by Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Imani Moise; Writing by Savio D’Souza; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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