Markets tumble as big Fed move fails to quell virus fears

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) – Markets reeled on Monday, with stocks on Wall Street and the price of Brent crude tumbling more than 10%, as the Federal Reserve’s second emergency rate cut in as many weeks failed to calm fears of a coronavirus-induced recession.

Volatility gauges known as fear indexes spiked, with the Euro STOXX 50 in Europe surging almost 28% to an all-time high and the CBOE Market Volatility index soaring more than 30% as stocks plunged further into bear territory.

Even traditional safe havens cratered as fearful investors said that cash is king.

Platinum dived nearly 27% to its weakest level since 2002, while gold fell more than 5% as investors unloaded precious metals in exchange for cash as not enough buyers sparked illiquidity, especially in the U.S. Treasury market.

The S&P 500 plunged 8% shortly after the open to trigger an automatic 15-minute halt in trading on the three main U.S. stock indexes. The halt was the third emergency pause on Wall Street in six days, and U.S. stocks resumed their decline after trading resumed.

Investors worried that the Fed action, joined by central banks in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, may be insufficient for companies facing a sharp slide in demand. The moves were reminiscent of the sweeping steps taken more than a decade ago to staunch a meltdown of the global financial system.

Lower rates and increased asset purchases by the Fed will help ease tight credit markets, but the U.S. government needs to do more to address the impact of the coronavirus, said David Joy, chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial in Boston.

“The Fed did what it could; I’m not so quick to blame the Fed,” Joy said. “Investors are looking around hoping, praying, that there will be a big fiscal package yet to come from Washington – but getting nervous that it might not.”

Rate-sensitive U.S. financial stocks plunged -12.8%, leading declines among the major S&P sectors. Energy stocks tracked a 10% slump in oil prices, while technology stocks also slid -11.9%. Apple Inc, Inc and Microsoft Corp together lost nearly $300 billion in market value.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 8.41% and the pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 4.86% as stock markets pared initial deeper losses in Europe. Marketsin France and Spain led the decline as the two countries joined Italy in enforcing a national lockdown.

The benchmark European index has now lost more than a third of its value since hitting a record high in mid-February, while the benchmark S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite are down about 27%.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2,701.75 points, or 11.65%, to 20,483.87. The S&P 500 lost 293.13 points, or 10.81%, to 2,417.89 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 848.15 points, or 10.77%, to 7,026.72.

Almost nothing was left unscathed. Oil, already slammed by a Saudi-instigated price war, slid to less than $30 a barrel to lows last seen in early 2016.

Oil futures for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, fell $3.03 to settle at $28.70 a barrel, while Brent crude futures fell $3.80 to settle at $30.05 a barrel.

There were moves in Europe to curb short-selling of stocks as bond markets weighed the risk to vulnerable countries, as well as the impact of a fiscal spending splurge on safe-haven debt.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes last rose 74/32 in price to yield 0.7198%.

The Fed’s emergency 100 basis-point rate cut on Sunday was matched by the renewal of its quantitative easing program to increase cash in markets and more cheap U.S. dollar funding to ease a ruinous logjam in global lending markets.

There was further policy easing on Monday from the Bank of Japan in the form of a pledge to ramp up purchases of exchange-traded funds and other risky assets.

New Zealand’s central bank cut rates 75 basis points to 0.25%, while the Reserve Bank of Australia pumped more money into its financial system. South Korea and Kuwait both lowered rates, while Russia and Germany were throwing together multi-billion dollar anti-crisis funds.

MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan tumbled 5.2% to lows not seen since early 2017, while the Nikkei fell 2.5% as the BoJ’s easing steps failed to reassure markets.

U.S. and Chinese data underscored just how much economic damage the disease can cause, with official numbers in China showing the worst drops in activity on record. Industrial output plunged 13.5% and retail sales 20.5%.

Manufacturing activity in New York state also plunged in March by the most on record to its lowest level since 2009, offering an early glimpse of the coronavirus’ damaging impact on the U.S. economy.

In Asia, Shanghai blue chips fell 4.3% overnight even as China’s central bank surprised with a fresh round of liquidity injections to the financial system. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index tumbled 4%.

Graphic – Coronavirus pummels markets: here

Wall Street’s worries deepened after New York and Los Angeles both ordered bars, restaurants, theaters and cinemas to shut to combat the spread of the coronavirus, mirroring similar measures in Asia and Europe.

Markets have been severely strained as bankers, companies and individual investors stampede into cash and safe-haven assets while selling profitable positions to raise money to cover losses in savaged equities.

The safe-haven Japanese yen jumped as concerns about the outbreak sent investors fleeing higher-risk assets.

The dollar index rose 0.155%, with the euro up 0.56% to $1.1167.

The Japanese yen strengthened 1.94% versus the greenback at 105.89 per dollar.

U.S. gold futures settled 2% lower at $1,486.5 an ounce.

Graphic – World stocks plunge on virus worries: here

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