By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks sold off late to end sharply lower on Wednesday, dragged down by continued worries over rising interest rates, and the Dow and S&P 500 capped their worst months since January 2016.
The S&P 500 also snapped a 10-month straight run of gains, which had been its longest monthly winning streak since an 11-month run from March 1958 to January 1959.
Wednesday's declines closed a month marked by spikes in volatility and fears that rising inflation could prompt the Federal Reserve to pick up the pace of interest rate hikes.
New Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's Tuesday remarks, which revived fears about more rate increases than expected this year, continued to weigh.
"Investors are still trying to digest where the Fed is going to be between now and year end, and Powell has given it a hawkish tilt," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.
The late-day weakness underscored lingering skittishness amongst investors. "We'd rather see strength coming in in the last hour," Hellwig said.
Energy shares dropped with oil prices <CLc1> and the sector had the biggest daily decline in the S&P 500, but a break below the 50-day moving average on the S&P 500 triggered further selling in afternoon trading.
"You get the algorithms responding to the technical break and initiating sell programs," said Ken Polcari, director of the NYSE floor division at O'Neil Securities in New York.
The Cboe Volatility Index <.VIX>, the most widely followed barometer of expected near-term volatility of the S&P 500 index <.SPX>, closed up 1.26 at 19.85, its highest close in a week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> fell 380.83 points, or 1.5 percent, to 25,029.2, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 30.45 points, or 1.11 percent, to 2,713.83 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> dropped 57.35 points, or 0.78 percent, to 7,273.01.
For the month, the Dow lost 4.3 percent and the S&P 500 fell 3.9 percent. The Nasdaq declined 1.9 percent, its biggest monthly percentage fall since October 2016.
The month also included a confirmation of a 10-percent correction for the stock market but that was followed by a rebound that made the monthly losses less steep. The S&P 500 is now down about 5.6 percent from its Jan. 26 record high.
On Tuesday, Powell gave an upbeat view on the U.S. economy and said data had strengthened his confidence on inflation. Traders boosted bets the U.S. central bank would squeeze in a fourth rate hike this year following the remarks.
Retailer shares were among the bright spots of the day.
Booking Holdings Inc <BKNG.O>, formerly known as Priceline, rose 6.8 percent after reporting upbeat quarterly profit, helped by higher hotel bookings, while off-price apparel seller TJX <TJX.N> jumped 6.9 percent after posting upbeat same-store sales.
About 76 percent of the S&P 500 companies that have reported so far have topped profit estimates, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. That is above the average 72 percent recorded in the past four quarters.
Celgene Corp's 9 percent drop <CELG.O> was a drag on the healthcare sector after U.S. health regulators rejected the company's application seeking approval of a multiple sclerosis drug.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 2.55-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.65-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 15 new 52-week highs and 13 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 59 new highs and 72 new lows.
About 8.1 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges. That compares with the 8.4 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker)