Plunging Wall Street stocks end record bull run


  • Markets
  • Friday, 13 Mar 2020

A price screen display above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) after the close of trading in New York on Thursday. - Reuters

NEW YORK: Wall Street tanked on Thursday, slamming the book on the longest-ever U.S. bull market after new travel restrictions to curb the coronavirus spread spooked investors and rattled world markets.

President Donald Trump's Europe travel ban, announced late Wednesday, sent all three major U.S. stock indexes into a tailspin, with the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq confirming their first bear market since the financial crisis.

The blue chip Dow suffered its worst one-day loss since October 1987's "Black Monday."

The benchmark S&P 500 and the Nasdaq have lost over a quarter of their value since reaching record closing highs just 16 sessions ago, as nations around the world grapple with how to contain the fast-moving coronavirus and its economic effects.

A bear market is confirmed when an index sinks 20% or more below its most recent closing high.

"The continued negative action in the market is telling us whatever's been done so far hasn't been enough," said Joseph Sroka, chief investment officer at NovaPoint in Atlanta. "People can't point to a tangible outcome that's going to restore normal daily life, so uncertainty remains.

"Prominent organizations, educational institutions and even sports leagues are foregoing events out of caution," Sroka added. "Leading institutions around the world are setting the tone. We're cautious because they're telling us to be cautious."

Trump's sweeping travel restrictions, limiting flights from continental Europe to the United States, sent European shares <.STOXX> to a near four-year low and slammed airline stocks, already battered by the spread of COVID-19.

On Wall Street, airlines <.SPCOMAIR> plummeted 19.6%.

Boeing Co fell another 18.1% as J.P.Morgan abandoned its long-term backing for the company's shares, setting the planemaker on course for its worst week ever.

The U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to cut interest rates for the second time this month at the conclusion of its two-day monetary policy scheduled for next week.

U.S. Treasury yields tumbled as anticipation grew for aggressive easing on the part of the Fed.

The New York Federal Reserve announced on Thursday that it would introduce $1.5 trillion in new repo operations this week.

"Any government action that has dollars tied to it that's actionable for the banking system would be viewed as a positive," Sroka said. "But what the market is looking for is tangible evidence that the government is trying to stave off a recession."

Interest rate-sensitive bank shares <.SPXBK> dropped 10.5%, while corporate credit worries hit bond fund prices as companies began to draw on credit lines.

The CBOE Volatility index <.VIX>, a gauge of investor anxiety, shot up to levels not seen since November 2008, the height of the financial crisis.

The Trump travel ban also hit oil prices, sending front-month Brent crude down 8.6%. Oil prices were already under pressure after Saudi Arabia and Russia vowed to boost production, flooding the market with supply despite plummeting demand.

The S&P 500 Energy index <.SPNY> lost 12.3%

The Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> fell 2,352.6 points, or 9.99%, to 21,200.62, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 260.74 points, or 9.51%, to 2,480.64 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> dropped 750.25 points, or 9.43%, to 7,201.80.

All 11 major sectors of the S&P 500 closed sharply lower.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 23.77-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 17.69-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted no new 52-week highs and 336 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 3 new highs and 1,573 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 18.54 billion shares, compared with the 12.49 billion average over the last 20 trading days. - Reuters

Reuters also reported:

Global markets suffered record falls on Thursday as alarm over the coronavirus intensified, and governments from Ireland to Italy unveiled new measures to try to slow the spread of a disease that has infected more than 127,000 people worldwide.

Travellers in Europe rushed to board flights to the United States after President Donald Trump imposed sweeping restrictions on travel from the continent, a decision that angered leaders there.

In Europe, North America and Australia events from sports matches to weddings were cancelled or suspended, schools were closed and public gatherings restricted or banned, as normal life for millions began to be directly impacted.

Trump even suggested that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo could be delayed by a year.

"Maybe they postpone it for a year... if that's possible," Trump told reporters. "I like that better than I like having empty stadiums all over the place."

The White House announced it was stopping public tours, while Rome's Catholic churches were ordered closed - a move thought to be unprecedented in modern times - and the city's faithful given dispensation not to attend Sunday mass. Disneyland in California is shutting the gates of its amusement park.

But in China, where the epidemic originated, officials said the disease had peaked and the global spread could be over by June if other nations applied similarly aggressive containment measures as Beijing's communist government.

Fears of the impact of such restrictions on the movement of people and goods hit globalstocks and oil prices hard.

Major European bourses fell by double-digit percentages for their biggest daily losses on record, led by a 17% slide in Italian stocks <.FTMIB>. Stimulus efforts from the European Central Bank did little to calm nerves.

On Wall Street stocks slumped around 10% <.DJI> <.SPX> in their worst day since the 1987 "Black Monday" crash. [.N]

'MASS PANIC'

Trump had restricted certain travel from Europe to the United States in a televised address on Wednesday, and on Thursday, weary and confused travellers rushed to airports to board the last flights back to the United States.

"It caused a mass panic," said 20-year-old Anna Grace, a U.S. student at Suffolk University on her first trip to Europe, who rushed to Madrid's Barajas airport at 5 a.m. to get home.

The outbreak has disrupted industry, travel, entertainment and sports worldwide, and prompted airlines to appeal for urgent aid from their governments.

But its progress in the epicentre of China's Hubei province has slowed markedly amid strict curbs on movement, including the lockdown of its capital Wuhan.

Hubei logged just eight new infections on Wednesday, the first time in the outbreak it has recorded a daily tally in single figures. The rest of mainland China had seven new cases, six of them imported from abroad.

"The peak of the epidemic has passed for China," said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission.

The Chinese government's senior medical adviser, Zhong Nanshan, an epidemiologist renowned for helping combat the SARS outbreak in 2003, said the crisis could be over by mid-year if other countries followed China's example.

The coronavirus has infected more than 127,000 people around the world, the vast majority in China, and killed 4,700, according to a Reuters tally.

WAR FOOTING

In a wave of announcements, countries and U.S. states unveiled stricter new measures to slow the spread of new infections, some of them reminiscent of a war footing.

"It's going to spread further," British Prime Boris Johnson told a news conference. "I must level with you, level with the British public - more families, many more families, are going to lose loved ones before their time."

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a television address on Thursday night that the country was facing its worst public health crisis in a century and announced measures including the closure of all schools, creches and universities from Monday.

California and New York announced sweeping bans on large gatherings, and more schools, museums and other institutions said they planned to close, including all schools in Ohio and public schools in Maryland.

In Italy, where the death toll passed 1,000, the government imposed a blanket closure of restaurants, bars and almost all shops except food stores and pharmacies.

Ireland will shut schools, universities and childcare facilities until March 29 and restrict mass gatherings.

Some matches in European soccer's elite Champions League were postponed, while in U.S. sports the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League seasons were both suspended and Major League Baseball delayed its season start. U.S. college basketball's "March Madness" tournament was cancelled.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie were in self-isolation after she came down with flu-like symptoms and was tested for the new coronavirus.

Oscar-winning American actor Tom Hanks tested positive in Australia, where he is on a film shoot. - reuters

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