Why did the ASX 200 just sink to new 2-month lows on Friday?

It's been a rocky week for the ASX 200. But why?

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After closing up 0.5% yesterday, the S&P/ASX 200 Index (ASX: XJO) is all but certain to end the week in the red.

Barring a miraculous afternoon turnaround (we can always hope!), Friday will mark the seventh day of declines out of the last eight trading days.

That's a far cry from March, a month which saw the benchmark index notch a series of new all-time highs. And it's worth bearing in mind that the index remains up 7.8% over six months.

At the time of writing the ASX 200 is down 1.8% at 7,527.9. You have to go back to 24 January to find a lower closing level.

The falls in the Australian stock market today follow another day of weakness in the United States markets.

After opening the day in positive territory, the S&P 500 Index (SP: .INX) sank 1.1% in afternoon trade to close the day down 0.2%.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index (NASDAQ: .IXIC), also up for the first half of the trading day, closed down 0.5%.

It's a similar story in Australia today, with the S&P/ASX All Technology Index (ASX: XTX) down 2.1% at the time of writing, trailing the ASX 200.

Not all sectors are under pressure, however. ASX gold stocks are broadly shining bright again today, as witnessed by the 2.2% gain in the S&P/ASX All Ordinaries Gold Index (ASX: XGD).

Here's what's moving the markets.

What's pressuring the ASX 200?

Aussie and global stocks are broadly continuing to catch headwinds from fears of an expanded war between Iran and Israel in the Middle East. Iran has vowed to respond to any reprisal from Israel with swift and overwhelming force. And news is now hitting the wires that Israel has indeed launched missiles into Iranian territory.

Atop those ongoing jitters, US stocks and the ASX 200 look to be under pressure from the old 'good news is bad news' story.

In this case, good news for the world's top economy is bad news for stocks.

The latest round of 'good-bad' news was the resilient US jobs market, with historically low unemployment levels remaining largely unchanged.

That's the good part.

The bad part is this again points to potentially sticky inflation issues and pushes back the likely timing of the first eagerly awaited interest rate cut from the US Federal Reserve.

That's one of the reasons we're seeing ASX tech shares trailing the broader ASX 200 performance today. Many tech companies are priced with growing future earnings in mind, and higher rates increase the present cost of investing in that growth potential.

What are the experts saying?

Commenting on the diminishing outlook for multiple Fed rate cuts that's pressuring the ASX 200 today, National Australia Bank Ltd (ASX: NAB) stated (quoted by The Australian Financial Review):

Federal Reserve members continued to suggest there is no urgency to cut rates. The S&P 500 dropped for a fifth straight session, its longest losing run since October, but by a more modest 0.2% on the day.

"Treasuries fell across the curve as Fed speakers supported the view that interest rates will be higher for longer," Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd (ASX: ANZ) added.

Michael Landsberg, chief investment officer at Landsberg Bennett Private Wealth Management, now believes ASX 200 investors won't see any interest rate cuts from the Fed in 2024.

According to Landsberg (quoted by Bloomberg):

We are firmly in the camp of no rate cuts in 2024. We believe investors should prepare for a higher-for-longer regime when it comes to both inflation and interest rates and that investment portfolios should be positioned for these dynamics for the foreseeable future.

There you have it.

Invest accordingly.

And keep an eye open for those oversold, high-quality ASX 200 shares that will seem like a bargain buy this time next year!

Motley Fool contributor Bernd Struben has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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