Stocks Plunge Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, Triggering Wall Street Trading Halt

After initially taking an optimistic stance on the virus, investors are realising they likely woefully underestimated it.

NEW YORK (AP) — Fear bludgeoned financial markets around the world Monday, and stocks, bond yields and oil plunged on metastasising worries about the effects of the new coronavirus.

The most violent drops came from the oil markets, where prices cratered more than 20%. But moves in stocks and bond yields were nearly as breathtaking. In the United States, the S&P 500 plunged as much as 7.4% in the first few minutes of trading, and losses were so sharp that trading was temporarily halted. Stocks trimmed their losses following the halt, and the index was down 5.5%, as of 10:25am Eastern time.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1,442 points, or 5.5% to 24,434after briefly being down more than 2,000. The Nasdaq gave up 5.3%.

The carnage in the energy sector was particularly arresting. Occidental Petroleum, Marathon Oil, Apache Corp. and Diamondback Energy each sank more than 40%. Exxon Mobil and Chevron were on track for their worst days since 2008.

European stocks dropped more than 6%. Treasury yields careened to more record lows as investors dove into anything that seems safe, even if it pays closer to nothing each day.

All the selling is the result of fear of the unknown. As Covid-19 spreads around the world, many investors feel helpless in trying to estimate how much it will hurt the economy and corporate profits, and the easiest response to such uncertainty may be to get out. After initially taking an optimistic view on the virus — hoping that it would remain confined mostly in China and cause just a short-term disruption — investors are realising they likely woefully underestimated it.

The virus has infected more than 110,000 worldwide, and Italy on Sunday followed China’s lead in quarantining a big swath of its country in hopes of corralling the spread. That sparked more fears, as quarantines would snarl supply chains for companies even more than they already have.

The new coronavirus is now spreading on every continent except Antarctica and hurting consumer spending, industrial production, and travel.

The S&P 500 has lost 17% since setting a record last month. If it hits a 20% drop, it would mean the death of what’s become the longest-running bull market for U.S. stocks in history. Monday actually marks the 11th anniversary of the market hitting bottom after the 2008 financial crisis.

The circuit breaker tripped in the US stock market is meant to slow things down and give investors a chance to breathe before trading more.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note plunged to 0.54%, down sharply from 0.70% late Friday. Early last week, it had never been below 1%.

Short-term yields sank as traders placed increasing bets that the Federal Reserve will cut rates deeper to do what it can to help the economy. The two-year Treasury yield, which moves more on expectations of Fed action, fell to 0.33% from 0.46%.

The Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world have provided the ultimate backstop in the past during this bull market, supporting markets with rate cuts and other measures of stimulus. But doubts are rising about how effective lower rates can be this time. They can encourage people and companies to borrow, but they can’t restart factories, restaurants or theme parks shut down because people are quarantined.

Brent crude, the international standard, lost $8.60, or 19%, to $36.67 per barrel. Benchmark US crude fell $7.16 to $34.12.

Investors were already knocking oil down because of worries that a virus-weakened global economy will burn less fuel. But concerns about supply dropped the latest scythe on the market Monday. Reports that Saudi Arabia may increase production of oil to grab market share led to worries that the world may soon be awash in too much oil.


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