March Madness: The Dow is on the brink of logging its ugliest March loss in nearly 40 years

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It’s been a rough month for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

It has been a brutal stretch for U.S. equities. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the broad-market S&P 500 are looking at an unusually unsightly March, amid a rise in volatility and heightened concerns about trade wars.

Read: S&P 500 turns negative for 2018 as stocks tumble on trade fears

The blue-chip average is on the verge of putting in its worst March since 1980, when it declined 8.97%, according to WSJ Market Data Group. The Dow DJIA, -1.77% is presently down 5.98% or 1,496 points.

Meanwhile, the S&P 500 index SPX, -2.10% is on pace for its worst March in 17 years, since a 6.4% March decline in 2001. The index has shed 125.57 points, or 4.63%, so far.

The awful slump for equities comes as investors wrestled with import tariffs announced by President Donald Trump’s administration on China and jitters around the Federal Reserve’s ability to avoid pushing the economy into recession as it normalizes monetary policy from crisis-era levels, against a backdrop of fiscal stimulus that risks overheating an economy that is in its ninth year of expansion.

Those concerns have helped drive the Cboe Volatility Index VIX, +6.56% nearly 57% higher for the week, above its long-term average of 20. Wall Street’s so-called “fear index,” which measures bullish and bearish options bets in the S&P 500 index 30 days in the future and tends to rise as stocks tumble, has more than doubled thus far in 2018.

See: Trump’s most market-rattling trade blasts are still to come, warns Pimco

And read: How investors can protect against a trade war—in one sentence

The Dow closed Friday down 424 points, or 1.8%, after booking a 724-point drop on Thursday. More broadly, the S&P 500 ended down 2.1% at 2,588.26, while the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -2.43% finished the session 2.4% lower at 6,992.67.

The Nasdaq also is staring down the worst March decline since 2001, when it fell 14.48%. Thus far, the technology-heavy index has shed 3.9% or 280.34 points.