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Mar 20, 2020

S&P 500 sinks to three-year low; oil tumbles

Two words to live by amid market swings: Stay calm

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U.S. stocks dropped to cap the worst week for equities since the global financial crisis amid dire warnings about the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic and as governments stepped up efforts to keep people at home.

The S&P 500 Index tumbled to its lowest in three years, ending the week down 15 per cent as the European Union said the recession this year may be as bad as 2009, and Goldman Sachs warned the U.S. economy may shrink 24 per cent on an annualized basis in the second quarter. Oil sank as governments around the world imposed restrictions on movement to slow the disease’s spread, bringing its weekly decline to 29 per cent.

The 10-year Treasury yield fell back below 1 per cent. The dollar was little changed after vaulting more than 8 per cent in the previous eight sessions as the Federal Reserve coordinated action with global central banks to beef up dollar liquidity swap line arrangements. Gold edged higher.

“This is not a market that is going to all of a sudden heal itself,” Marvin Loh, senior global macro strategist at State Street Global Markets, said by phone.

Investors are weighing a faster pace of coronavirus infections against flickers of optimism that have followed extraordinary government actions to protect the global economy, from plans for stimulus and cash handouts to nationalizing companies. Hedge funds, stock exchanges, banks and even brick-and-mortar businesses in the U.S. are lobbying Washington policy makers not to shut markets.

Still, the World Health Organization said that the pace of infections is speeding up. Cases doubled to 200,000 in the 12 days through Thursday, but just one day later the tally already was almost halfway to 300,000.

U.S. stock trading volumes surged to about 60 per cent above the average in the midst of a phenomenon known as quadruple witching caused by expiring options and futures contracts.

In the latest virus developments,

  • Global deaths top more than 10,000, according to Johns Hopkins University; Italy reported 627 deaths, the most in one day
  • Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered New Yorkers to stay at home for the foreseeable future following a similar move by California
  • The European Central Bank provided capital relief measures to banks
  • Air France-KLM and Airbus SE are poised to tap French government-backed loans
  • Switzerland announced a 32 billion franc (US$32.6 billion) economic support package
  • The German government wants to set up a rescue fund for companies hit by coronavirus worth about 500 billion euros.

These are the main moves in markets:

Stocks

The S&P 500 Index fell 4.4 per cent at 4 p.m. New York time; the Nasdaq Composite slid 3.8 per cent.
The Stoxx Europe 600 Index rose 1.8 per cent.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index surged 2.5 per cent.

Currencies

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index rose 0.1 per cent.
The euro weakened 0.3 per cent to US$1.0665.
The British pound climbed 0.8 per cent to US$1.1574.
The Japanese yen slipped 0.5 per cent to 111.23 per dollar.

Bonds

The yield on 10-year Treasuries dropped 23 basis points to 0.91 per cent.
Germany’s 10-year yield fell 13 basis points to -0.33 per cent.
Britain’s 10-year yield decreased 16 basis points to 0.55 per cent.

Commodities

Gold gained 0.9 per cent to US$1,484.98 an ounce.
West Texas Intermediate crude fell 11 per cent to US$22.43 a barrel.

 

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