UPDATE: Stocks get rocked to start April trade as investors weigh coronavirus duration; small-cap index plunges 7%
By Mark DeCambre, MarketWatch , Sunny Oh
All three main stock-market indexes book losses of about 4.4%
Stocks finished Wednesday trade deeply in negative territory, with the three main indexes registering declines of at least 4% and a gauge of small-capitalization stocks tumbling 7% to start April and a new quarter.
Investors pinned the day's downbeat action partly to President Donald Trump, who warned late Tuesday of a "very, very painful" two weeks ahead for the country in face of a rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has raised fears the world's largest economy is experiencing an unprecedented disruption to industries, small businesses and households, resulting in the worst quarterly performance for U.S. equities since 2008.
What are major indexes doing?
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 973.65 points, or 4.44%, to 20,943.51. The S&P 500 slipped 114.09 points, or 4.41%, to 2,470.50, led by sharp declines in real estate (XLRE) and utilities (XLU), both off by at least 6%, as investors fear that people won't make rent or utility payments.
The Nasdaq Composite shed 339.52 points, or 4.41%, to 7,360.58.
The small-capitalization Russell 2000 index , saw even more severe losses, finishing the session off 81.11 points, or 7%, to end at 1,071.99.
Stocks also ended lower on Tuesday, capping a quarter that saw stocks tumble from February records into a bear market at record speed. The Dow logged a 23.2% quarterly fall, its biggest first-quarter drop on record and biggest quarterly decline since 1987. The S&P 500 fell 20% for its biggest quarterly selloff since the final three months of 2008. The Nasdaq Composite fell 14.2% for the quarter.
Read:Here's how the stock market tends to perform after brutal quarters (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-dow-is-on-track-for-its-worst-quarterly-performance-since-the-1987heres-how-the-stock-market-tends-to-perform-afterward-2020-03-31) (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-dow-is-on-track-for-its-worst-quarterly-performance-since-the-1987heres-how-the-stock-market-tends-to-perform-afterward-2020-03-31) (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-dow-is-on-track-for-its-worst-quarterly-performance-since-the-1987heres-how-the-stock-market-tends-to-perform-afterward-2020-03-31)
What's driving the market?
The uncertainty about when the U.S. can return to usual business has unnerved investors struggling to ascertain the ultimate economic impact of social curbs put in place amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Without a clear view on the timeline of a U.S. recovery, volatility was likely to remain heightened in the coming weeks, said market participants.
"Everything hinges on how long we are in this shutdown," said Anwiti Bahuguna, head of multiasset strategy at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, in an interview. "We don't know how long the shutdown may last, so it's hard to predict what U.S. growth will look like."
Also unsettling investors was President Donald Trump's warning late Tuesday that a "very, very painful" two weeks lies ahead for the country. The White House released new projections (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-lays-out-30-day-coronavirus-plan-says-next-2-weeks-will-be-very-painful-2020-03-31) for 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.
See:Dow faces crucial April test as coronavirus pandemic brings 'blizzard of bad news' (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/april-poses-crucial-stock-market-test-as-coronavirus-promises-blizzard-of-bad-news-2020-03-31)
(http://www.marketwatch.com/story/april-poses-crucial-stock-market-test-as-coronavirus-promises-blizzard-of-bad-news-2020-03-31)The number of COVID-19 cases world-wide (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/covid-19-case-tally-862234-cases-42404-deaths-2020-04-01) rose to 922,00 on Wednesday, while the number of deaths rose to at least 46,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has the most number of cases world-wide, at 203,608, and 4,476 deaths.
In economic reports, the U.S. labor market saw growing cracks as businesses curtailed hiring and shed workers. Automatic Data Processing reported the U.S. economy lost 27,000 private-sector jobs in March (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/private-sector-sheds-27000-jobs-in-march-with-small-firms-suffering-the-most-adp-says-2020-04-01), though the data is expected to be of little use in predicting the official unemployment numbers due on Friday due to distortions created by the pandemic.
In other U.S. data published Wednesday, the IHS Markit final U.S. March manufacturing PMI fell to 48.5 from initial 49.2. A reading of the index below 50 indicates contraction in activity.
The Institute for Supply Management's March U.S. manufacturing index (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/manufacturers-see-new-orders-plunge-to-11-year-low-as-coronavirus-spreads-ism-finds-2020-04-01) fell to 49.1 from 50.1 in February, a less severe drop than economist forecasts.
Meanwhile, expectations are growing for another round of fiscal stimulus following the passage on Friday of a $2 trillion relief package.
As Washington considers other steps for responding to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic damage, Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both have suggested a "Phase 4" package (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/pelosi-sees-phase-4-coronavirus-package-including-additional-payments-to-americans-infrastructure-spending-2020-03-30) could include spending on infrastructure.
Which companies were in focus?
Xerox (XRX) dropped its $35 billion hostile bid for HP Inc.(HPQ), saying it was prioritizing its response to the outbreak over all other considerations. Xerox shares ended down 7.1%, while those for HP closed down 14.5%.
Shares of T-Mobile US Inc.(TMUS) gained 1.5% after the network provider officially closed its merger with Sprint.
Shares of Carnival Corp.(CCL)plunged 33.18% as the cruise company announced it would sell $1.25 billion of stock, and $4.75 billion of debt.
Whiting Petroleum(WLL) filed for bankruptcy and said it had agreed with some of its debtholders to pursue a financial restructuring. Under the proposed terms, it would hand 97% of any new equity to its bondholders. Shares of the company tumbled 44.53%.
How did other markets trade?
Government bond yields extended their drop (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/treasury-yields-slide-as-global-stock-markets-come-under-pressure-2020-04-01), with the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury tumbling 6.1 basis points to 0.63%.
Oil prices traded near depressed levels, with the price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil for May delivery falling 17 cents to settle at $20.31 a barrel (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/oil-begins-april-on-down-note-after-worst-month-on-record-2020-04-01) on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Low crude prices have put oil companies under pressure, raising the likelihood that the U.S. energy sector will see a spate of defaults. The Wall Street Journal reported (https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-to-meet-with-oil-ceos-about-helping-industry-11585763413)President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet chief executives of oil companies to discuss government measures to support the industry.
In precious metals, goldfor June delivery (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/gold-attempts-to-bounce-higher-to-start-april-second-quarter-amid-coronavirus-spread-2020-04-01)fell $5.20, or 0.3%, to end at $1,591.40 an ounce on Comex.
The U.S. dollar rose 0.6% against a basket of its major trading partners, according to the ICE U.S. Dollar index.
European stocks traded sharply lower, with the Stoxx Europe 600 index closing 2.9% lower. In Asia overnight, stocks reported similar losses. The China CSI 300 finished down 0.3%, and Japan's Nikkei 225 booked a 4.5% decline on Wednesday.
-Sunny Oh; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 01, 2020 20:56 ET (00:56 GMT)
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