Stocks tumbled for a seventh consecutive day Friday, with the S&P 500 index falling about 0.8%, bringing its loss for the week to more than 11%. It was the worst weekly decline for stocks since the 2008 financial crisis. In early October that year, the S&P 500 fell about 18%.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 1% Friday.
The sell-off was fueled mostly by worry that measures to contain the virus would hamper corporate profits and economic growth, and fears that the outbreak could get worse. The selling has in a matter of days dragged stock benchmarks around the world into a correction — a drop of 10% or more that is taken as a measure of extreme pessimism.
In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 fell more than 3% and the Dax in Germany fell more than 4%. In Asia, the Nikkei 225 in Japan closed down 3.7%, the KOSPI in South Korea dropped 3.3%, and the Shanghai Composite in China dropped 3.7%.
The Fed says it is willing to act if the outbreak worsens.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell moved to soothe investors Friday, issuing a statement reaffirming that the central bank will use its tools and “act as appropriate to support the economy.”
While the Fed chair said that the “fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong,” he also noted that “the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity” and said that the Fed “is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook.”
Powell’s statement came after his fellow officials signaled a willingness to cut interest rates if the coronavirus outbreak worsens, laying out a scenario in which the central bank might respond as infections and quarantines spread globally.
Scott Minerd, chief investment officer of Guggenheim Investments, said that officials at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York had reached out Thursday to ask whether he was seeing any signs of pressure or deterioration in funding markets, which are critical to Wall Street’s functioning.
While he did not see funding problems as of yet, Minerd said that the Fed may have to pressure banks to continue to provide financing or encourage use of the discount window if the situation worsens.
He said the U.S. economy would likely be tipped into a recession and stock prices could fall by another 20% to 30% if the outbreak becomes a pandemic.
Wall Street’s jitters extend beyond stocks.
Other measures of the overall health of financial markets and corporate America are beginning to show signs of strain.
The most profound signal about the future of the global economy is that interest rates are plunging to record lows. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds fell to about 1.15% Friday, down from 1.9% at the start of the year and 2.7% one year ago.
Wall Street is also skittish about risky debt. The biggest U.S. junk-bond fund — iShares iBoxx High-Yield Corporate Bond Exchange Traded Fund, which tracks an index of dollar-denominated risky corporate debt — has plunged by about 4% since Feb. 20, data Friday morning showed. The index posted a record outflow Tuesday as spooked investors pulled nearly $1.6 billion out of the market.
High-yield debt, which is extended to companies viewed as more likely to fall short on payments, is usually the first to go bad if companies run into trouble. If coronavirus makes credit hard to come by and causes cash flows to dry up, for example, firms that are highly leveraged with shaky prospects could fall behind.
Oil prices are also sharply lower.
That means some relief at the pump for motorists this weekend. The national average price of regular gasoline has dropped 2 cents in the last week, to $2.45 a gallon, according to AAA. One half of that drop came from Thursday to Friday, suggesting the price decline is accelerating.
The nation has 256.4 million barrels of gasoline in stock, 1.4 million barrels more than last year. But the big drop in global oil prices is a much more important factor. At about $45 a barrel, the American benchmark oil price is at its lowest level since December 2018.
Oil producers are nervous since the break-even price for many wells in U.S. shale fields is about $45. So far, though, energy executives in West Texas report that they have made no major changes to drilling activities because of the coronavirus outbreak and its economic fallout. Officials also say there have experienced no disruptions in supplies of materials and equipment.
CBS shuts down ‘The Amazing Race.’
CBS said Friday that the studio has shut down the 33rd season of the competition reality show “The Amazing Race” because of concerns over the spread of coronavirus.
The new season, which started production Feb. 22, had filmed three episodes in England and Scotland. When Italy, Austria and other parts of Europe started reporting cases of the virus, the producers decided to shut it down. No new start date has been determined.
“At this time, no racers or anyone on the production team traveling with them have contracted the virus, or shown symptoms, and we are not aware of anyone being exposed to it,” a CBS spokesman said in a statement.
The shutdown coincided with growing fears about international production and distribution in the entertainment business. Paramount Pictures’ “Mission Impossible VII” halted a planned three-week shoot in Venice earlier this week. The studio is already grappling with its inability to open its domestic hit “Sonic the Hedgehog” in China, after the country closed its theaters last month. The animated film was scheduled to open in the country Friday.
Universal Pictures canceled its Asian press tour for the new James Bond movie, “No Time to Die,” but the film is still scheduled to open worldwide April 10.
Apple’s Tim Cook is more upbeat about China.
Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, sounded a more positive note than many.
“It feels to me that China is getting the coronavirus under control. You look at the numbers coming down day by day by day, so I’m very optimistic there,” he told Fox Business on Thursday.
Apple is among the most exposed American companies in China. It assembles nearly all of its products there and relies on the region for a fifth of its sales. Falling sales in China and delays in reopening its suppliers’ factories caused Apple to revise its revenue guidance earlier this month.
But Cook said the situation is improving and Apple has reopened more than 80% of its 42 stores in China.
“The factories are working through the conditions to open,” he said.
Economists are slashing growth estimates.
Forecasters have cut their estimates of economic growth in the United States and around the world this year out of fear of effects from the coronavirus.
The projections vary widely, because economists are struggling to predict the spread of the virus and the resulting damage to growth. Bank of America researchers reduced their forecast for 2020 growth in the United States by 0.1% on Friday, to 1.6% overall, in a note titled “Gloom but not doom.” Goldman Sachs researchers also have marked down their forecast by 0.1% — with growth lagging in the first half of the year, then rebounding — but they said in a note this week that “the risks are clearly skewed to the downside until the outbreak is contained.”
Many researchers expect the Federal Reserve to quickly — and possibly deeply — cut interest rates in the face of worsening coronavirus news and market sell-offs. But researchers at Nomura warned on Friday that “there is little that monetary policy can do to limit the immediate downside risk for the U.S. economy.”
Corona beer has been hit, too.
In early January, when Constellation Brands announced a $40 million marketing campaign for its new Corona Hard Seltzer, coronavirus had not yet been tied to any deaths.
Now Corona beer is suffering from the similarity between its name and the coronavirus (so called because the spikes on its surface recall a crown, or corona in Latin). Google searches linking “beer,” “Corona” and “virus” surged as reports of infections increased. In the past month, 61% of Twitter posts mentioning Corona beer included discussion of coronavirus, according to Sprout Social, a social media management company.
Constellation Brands’ shares are down more than 18% this week.
Maggie Bowman, a spokeswoman for Corona, said in a statement that “there’s a good amount of misinformation out there,” adding that sales remain strong and “consumers, by and large, understand there’s no linkage between the virus and our business.”
Hand sanitizers are selling out.
On Amazon, popular brands like Purell, Germ-X and even Amazon’s own private-label Solimo were largely unavailable Friday. What was available was coming from third-party sellers at what appears to be higher prices. For instance, a pack of two 12-fluid-ounce bottles of Purell was being offered on Friday morning by a third-party seller for as much as $49.99.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Late Thursday, a spokeswoman for GoJo Industries, a small company based in Akron, Ohio, that claims to have invented Purell in 1988, said in an emailed statement the company had increased production significantly to meet the increased demand for Purell and other products.
The virus is reverberating through global business.
Over the past few days, companies as varied as United Airlines, Anheuser-BuschInBev, Mastercard and Pfizer have said that the outbreak poses a threat to their 2020 earnings, and the overall effect of the outbreak on global corporations could increase the chance of a broader economic slowdown, analysts say.
• Baker McKenzie, the law firm based in Chicago, shut its London office, which houses about 1,000 people, after a potential coronavirus case.
• The airline group IAG, which owns British Airways and Iberia, said that it expected earnings to be weaker because of the virus, but it could not give accurate profit guidance for the year because of the uncertainty of the situation.
• The Swiss government banned all gatherings of more than 1,000 people at least until March 15, forcing cancellation of the Geneva International Motor Show.
• Facebook canceled one of its advertising events, which is attended largely by employees, and its annual F8 conference in California — one of the company’s most anticipated events where it showcases its products and plans for the future to software developers.
• Employees at Amazon’s worldwide operations — the company’s largest division, which runs the technology and operations for warehouses, deliveries, Prime membership and physical stores, among other things — were told that they should not travel domestically or internationally “until further notice,” according to emails viewed by The New York Times.
Larry Kudlow says the outbreak won’t do long-term damage to the economy.
Larry Kudlow, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said Friday that the U.S. economy was “fundamentally sound” and that he did not expect that the coronavirus outbreak would do long-term damage to the economy even if more cases emerged.
“It looks like we will weather this,” Kudlow said on Fox Business Network. “This is not going to last forever.”
Kudlow said that the White House believed that the risk of something “very bad” happening in the United States was low and he advised long-term investors to consider buying stocks on the basis that they are a relative bargain compared to a week ago.
“I don’t think people should panic,” he said.