Benchmarks closed sharply lower on Tuesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell proposed US lawmakers consider asset purchases quicker than planned given the present economic scenario. Investors also kept a close watch on news associated with the new Covid variant and assessed its impact and risks. How Did the Benchmarks Perform? The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) dropped 652.22 points, or 1.9%, to close at 34,483.72 led into the red with a nearly 4% loss in shares of salesforce.com, inc. ( CRM Quick Quote CRM - Free Report) . Salesforce carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here. The S&P 500 fell 88.27 points, or 1.9%, to close at 4,567 on Tuesday, with all its 11 major sectors closing in the negative. The communication services sector led the decline with 3% loss, while all the other sectors registered at least 1% loss. The Nasdaq Composite Index closed at 15,537.69, after declining 245.14 points, or 1.6%. On Tuesday, the fear-gauge CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) increased 18.4%, to close at 27.19. Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 3.82-to-1 ratio, while a 2.40-to-1 ratio favored decliners on the Nasdaq. A total of 16.13 billion shares were traded yesterdayregistering the highest volume in a trading session since June, higher than the last 20-session average of 11.12 billion. Powell Signals Monthly Asset Purchases to Speed Up On Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell along with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen proposed to the Senate Banking Committee that it would be appropriate to consider speeding up the tapering process given the current economic scenario. Powell insists that the decision has been made after reviewing the latest jobs and inflation data ahead of the central bank’s mid-December policy meeting.Powell’s comments suggest that Fed is shifting focus on fighting inflation and its impacts, rather than focusing just on the virus rampage and economic recovery. On the other hand, just a day after President Joe Biden said in the press conference that the omicron variant is concerning, but there is no reason to panic, assuring citizens the fight against it wouldn’t involve “shutdowns or lockdowns,” Moderna, Inc.’s ( MRNA Quick Quote MRNA - Free Report) CEO Stephane Bancel told to the Financial Times that he expects existing vaccines to be less effective against omicron variant, adding to his CNBC’s statement on Monday it could take months to develop and ship an omicron-specific vaccine. Shares of the vaccine maker dropped 4.4% yesterday. Consumer Confidence Dwindles in November The government reported yesterday that the index of consumer confidence fell to 109.5 in November, the lowest level in nine months, from upwardly revised 111.6 in October. The consensus estimate was 110 and highlights a dip in optimism as consumers are worried about high inflation, along with the Delta variant dampening sentiments. Consumers are already worried about the biggest surge in inflation in 30 years, which is impacting spending patterns with those planning to purchase homes, autos, and major appliances declining. However, 58% of consumers said jobs are “plentiful,” and are hopeful about the labor market. Economic Data On Tuesday, the ISM-Chicago and MNI reported that the Chicago Business Barometer, or the Chicago PMI, fell to 61.8 in November, it is the lowest reading since February, from 68.4 in the prior month. Though a reading over 50 signals expansion, investors await the country’s ISM data for November scheduled for release on Dec 1. In a separate report, the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index showed that the 10-City Composite annual increased 17.8% year over year, down from 18.6% in the previous month, while the 20-City Composite posted a 19.1% year-over-year gain in September, but lower than 19.6% in the prior month. Monthly Roundup For the month, only the Nasdaq ended in the green, edging up 0.3%, while the DOW and the S&P 500 closed 3.7% and 0.8% lower. The Russell 2000 also lost nearly 4.3% in November. The new omicron variant of COVID threw benchmarks off track from a record rally in the month. Virus panic, the anticipation of Fed’s interest rate rise, inflation pressures kept investors’ sentiments clouded.