U.S. stocks plunged Wednesday and were briefly halted for trading as coronavirus lockdowns and travel restrictions expanded, rattling investors despite Washington’s promises for economic aid.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped more than 2,000 points, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 sank 8.9%, briefly triggering an automatic shock absorber for 15 minutes in afternoon trading. That marked the fourth time in eight trading sessions that circuit breakers were triggered.
Wednesday’s losses put the S&P 500 on track to erase nearly all of its gains since President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The broad index had soared roughly 50% in that span when it hit records in mid-February.
Global markets have seen a wave of unprecedented volatility in recent weeks as investors grapple with border closures that have caused transportation chaos and imperiled economies. The border between Canada and the U.S. will close for non-essential travel, Trump confirmed in a tweet Wednesday.
Investors need to see the number of infections slow before markets can find a bottom, analysts say. The number of new cases reported in China, where the virus emerged in December, is declining but infections in the United States, Europe and elsewhere are increasing.
“There’s no clarity. We don’t know what the real effects from these monetary and fiscal policies are going to be for a while,” says Rich Sega, global chief investment strategist at asset manager Conning. “We need to see data that shows that the infection rate has peaked.”
The S&P 500 has either lost or gained at least 4% over the past seven trading sessions through Tuesday, topping a previous record of six days set during the stock market crash in 1929, according to LPL Financial.
Stocks had stabilized a day earlier after Trump promised aid to get the U.S. economy through the outbreak.
The White House proposal could approach $1 trillion in spending to ward off the damage of business closures to contain the virus. The Federal Reserve has announced more measures to keep financial markets operating. The central bank said late Tuesday it would revive its crisis-era Primary Dealer Credit Facility that allows large financial institutions access to short-term loans.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump wants to send checks to Americans in the next two weeks to help support them while more parts of the economy come closer to shutting down.
“The monetary policy from the Fed can help us climb out of this later down the road, but White House officials still don’t have clarity on how long this will last,” Sega says. “That’s damaging markets. We don’t get the feeling that they know when this will be over.”
There were 114 reported deaths and more than 6,490 confirmed cases in the U.S. as of early Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 200,000 people and killed more than 8,000.
Stocks have wiped out trillions in market value over the past month. The S&P 500 has shed more than 25% since setting a record in mid-February, snapping the longest-ever bull market in Wall Street history.
No escaping a recession
“This is a severe blow to investor confidence and a severe blow to household net worth,” says Doug Ramsey, chief investment officer at the Leuthold Group. “We’re certainly not going to escape a recession. Now the question is how deep?”
A global recession is Morgan Stanley’s “base case,” with growth expected to fall to 0.9% this year, analysts said in a note. Global growth is forecast to contract 0.3% in the first quarter and 0.6% in the second quarter, they said. A “strong monetary and fiscal policy response” from the U.S. government is expected to help revive global growth in the third quarter.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 in London dropped 4.2% and Frankfurt’s DAX skidded 5.2%. France’s CAC 40 shed 5.4%. In Asia, the Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.8% and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo shed 1.7%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng skidded 4.2%.
Contributing: The Associated Press