Stocks have worst week in a decade on coronavirus fears

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Stock markets closed out their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis on Friday as fears of a coronavirus pandemic took root.

The market drop and the economic softening it portends could spell trouble for President Trump, who is counting on a strong economy to propel him to a second term, and who has frequently touted market performance.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 357 points on Friday, a loss of 1.4 percent, while the S&P 500 was down 25 points, or 0.8 percent.

The drop brought the total weekly losses for the Dow to more than 12 percent.

The Dow on Thursday racked up a record for the largest one-day drop in the index’s history, and entered a correction from the market’s Feb. 12 high.

“Investors have largely been caught off-guard by the serious and far-reaching economic consequence of the coronavirus,” said Nigel Green, CEO of the deVere Group.

The outbreak, he said, would hit global supply chains, economic growth and government revenues.

“Until such time as governments pump liquidity into the markets and coronavirus cases peak, markets will be jittery, triggering sell-offs,” he added.

The Dow had been down as much as 1,000 points earlier in the day on Friday, but cut some of its losses as the Federal Reserve signaled its willingness to lower interest rates in order to combat the outbreak’s economic effects.

Worldwide, more than 83,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported in 50 countries, leading to more than 2,800 deaths, the overwhelming majority of which have been in China.

Even as new cases reported in China continued to drop, the virus’s spread to other countries set expectations of a prolonged struggle to prevent a pandemic. Just since Thursday, an outbreak in Italy was linked to the virus’s spread to Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Netherlands and Nigeria.

Earlier on Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised its risk assessment on the virus to “very high.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the outbreak could yet be contained with vigilant action, but warned against the spread of misinformation.

“Our greatest enemy right now is not the virus itself. It’s fear, rumors and stigma. And our greatest assets are facts, reason and solidarity,” he said.

When it comes to the economy, fear, expectations, uncertainty and nerves about the virus could cause significant problems.
“We could get to a situation where panic becomes an even greater obstacle than the virus,” said University of Houston Law Professor Seth Chandler, an expert on health and the economy.

If panic sets in, he said, people might avoid going to public places and participating in economic activities, whether that’s going to the movies, eating out at restaurants, seeing sporting events, or riding public transportation to get to and from work.

“If we don’t get a good and fast handle on exponential growth and take aggressive actions like we saw in China and S. Korea, we’ll be vulnerable to disruption to supply chains and panic,” he said, referencing tough measures taken to cut of transport and cancel public events in places with serious outbreaks.

The administration has sought to downplay the severity and economic affect the virus could have.
“The virus is not going to sink the American economy,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, adding that he was more concerned about socialist economic policies. “That’s the biggest fear that I have today.”

“The stock market is worried, it’s fearful, but if you’re the long term investor which you all should be, since I believe and Ivanka believes that the country is in good, safe hands right now, you might think about buying the dip,” add Kudlow, who was speaking alongside the president’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump.

Goldman Sachs predicted a “short-lived global contraction that stops short of an outright recession,” and predicted that earnings in the United States would be stagnant for the year.

Congress has scoffed at the Trump administration’s request for a $2.5 billion emergency supplemental to fight the disease, especially parts of the plan that would transfer funds from Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and funding to battle Ebola.

The House is expected to unveil its own measure, which will include as much as double that amount.

Trump on Wednesday said he was willing to take more money to handle the coronavirus if Congress provides more.

On Thursday, he again criticized the Federal Reserve, arguing that it should cut rates given the unease.

“I hope the Fed gets involved and I hope it gets involved soon,” he said from the White House lawn.
Experts say they expect the stock market and economy to continue to be hobbled given uncertainty about the virus, how much it is spreading and whether governments have it under control.

“What you will see is stock prices for the next little while will be volatile,” said Bryan Routledge, professor of finance at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

“The bigger movement of stock prices is coming from risk and risk aversion. It’s not that output will be lower, but output will be more volatile,” he continued.

Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels contributed.


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