Market swings and a wave of cancellations as virus spreads
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Seven weeks after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the U.S., the outbreak is now classified as a pandemic and it's doing widespread damage to critical economic sectors of the global economy. Airlines are cutting capacity, people are working from home, major public events that raise millions of dollars for local communities have been canceled. The NCAA will hold its annual March Madness basketball tournament without fans in stands and CME Group says it will shutter its Chicago trading floor at the close of business Friday. The Associated Press is publishing a running tally of the effects of the coronavirus on people, businesses, and the economy.
VOLATILE IS THE NEW NORMAL: Wild swings in U.S. markets are becoming the new normal. Gyrations of 1,000 points or more on the Dow is occurring almost daily. In the first three days of this week, the Dow has fallen 2,000, risen 1,700, and plunged again Wednesday, with the Dow falling more than 1,400 points . Goldman Sachs says the longest bull market in history will end soon. Sachs lowered its 2020 corporate earnings forecast for S&P 500 companies for the second time in less than two weeks Wednesday.
Most of Europe rebounded and the Bank of England cut its key interest rate by half a percentage point to 0.25% and offered financial liquidity measures in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Asian markets slid.
OIL WARS: Saudi Arabia intensified its fight with Russia over the production cuts it wanted in a bid to halt tumbling oil prices. Benchmark U.S. crude is down almost 50% this year and its most severe decline since the economic crisis is happening this week. On Wednesday, Saudi's state-owned Aramco said it will increase production capacity to 13 million barrels per day, up from 12 million per day. It hopes to make it more painful for oil-producing countries to continue without production cuts. Crude prices fell 3% Wednesday, nearing $33 per barrel.
DISLODGED: The hotel industry is under duress. Business travel, vacations and other events are being canceled daily, and so are room reservations. Hilton is pulling its forecast for the first quarter and the year citing uncertainty as the coronavirus spreads. Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. followed Hyatt and Park Hotels & Resorts by withdrawing guidance for investors. Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton hotels plunged between 9% and 10% Wednesday.
FANS BANNED: NCAA tournament games will not be open to the general public because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus. NCAA President Mark Emmert said Wednesday that he made the decision to conduct both the men's and women's tournaments, which begin next week, with only essential staff and limited family in attendance.
San Francisco’s mayor prohibited for two weeks all gatherings of 1,000 or more people, including Golden State Warriors games. Separately, city officials last week called off non-essential gatherings of 50 or more people at city-owned properties, such as City Hall, the convention center and performing arts centers.
Farther north, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban on gatherings and events of more than 250 people in virtually the entire Seattle metro area to try to stop the spread of the new coronavirus in the state where at least 24 people have died. The order would not prohibit the operation of workplaces or schools. It would apply to sporting events like Seattle Mariners baseball and Seattle Sounders soccer games. The Mariners are still in Arizona for spring training, but their regular season home opener is scheduled for March 26.
DERAILED: The pandemic has scrambled supply chains, darkened factories in China, and reduced orders with the anticipation of a slowing global economy. Railroads are reporting a steep decline in the number of containers of imported goods they are carrying. The Association of American Railroads said Wednesday that the number of intermodal containers that U.S. railroads hauled last week fell 14.1% compared with last year. The railroad trade group said it is difficult to determine how much of the drop in shipments of containers of goods is related to the virus outbreak, but it is clear that is playing a role.
TAKING ON WATER: Already under heavy pressure from protracted trade disputes, shares of major ocean shippers are sinking further due to the viral threat to the global economy. Shares in some of the biggest shippers have lost between quarter to nearly half their value this year. A JPMorgan industry analyst said that shippers could potentially catch up with recent capacity cuts as the supply chain normalizes and Chinese factories re-open. However, the bigger threat is the surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S. and Europe.
CASINOS CRAP OUT: The casino industry is being ravaged by fewer tourists willing to travel and gamblers seeing the casino floor as a risky health bet. Shares in MGM, Wynn, Las Vegas Sands and Caesars are down between 25% and 45% since late February. Industry analysts are lowering their expectations for the first quarter. Ratings company Egan-Jones says gaming revenue in Macao, a huge gambling resort that attracts millions of Chinese gamblers, plunged 87.8% in February as casinos closed for two weeks. Gross gaming revenue in Macao is down about 50% year-to-date, Egan-Jones said.
TRADING FLOOR CLOSED: CME Group said it will shutter its Chicago trading floor as of the close of business Friday as a precaution. No coronavirus cases have been reported on the trading floor or in the Chicago Board of Trade building, it said. Reuters, meanwhile, reported that the New York Stock Exchange is also taking steps to limit the spread of the virus. It cited an internal memo saying the steps include mandating separate entrances and eating spaces for floor traders and staff at the NYSE's Wall Street building.
FED SUPPORT: The Federal Reserve on Wednesday spelled out more details about how it plans to keep short-term funding markets operating, two days after announcing that it was increasing the size of the support it was providing. The new announcement from the Fed’s New York regional bank said that beginning Thursday and continuing through April 12, it plans to offer at least $175 billion in daily overnight operations of its short-term funding operations known as the repo or repurchase market. The operations provide key support for businesses to meet short-term financing needs such as meeting payrolls.
PAID LEAVE: Amazon said Wednesday that it will offer paid leave to hourly workers who have contracted the new coronavirus or are being quarantined because of it. It's a reversal for the online shopping giant, which told warehouse workers last week they could take anytime off they want for the rest of March, but they wouldn’t get paid unless they used time off to paid time off. Amazon’s said its new policy gives hourly workers up to two weeks of pay.
BRAZILIAN STOCKS: Sao Paulo’s stock exchange halted trading temporarily for the second time this week Wednesday because of heavy losses amid a global wave of concern for the spread of the new coronavirus and tumbling oil prices. Trading was stopped on Brazil’s Bovespa shortly after 3 p.m. local time when it had fallen 10.11%. The dip took place shortly before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic. When trade returned the scenario didn’t look much different, with the Bovespa falling 12% shortly after 4:30 p.m. and shares of Brazil’s state-run oil giant Petrobras among the biggest losers, down more than 14%.
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