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US stocks plunge as fears grow about coronavirus outbreak

Major US indexes lost roughly 3.5% and Treasury yields touched more record lows.

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Trader John Panin watches the numbers at the closing bell, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (Richard Drew/AP)

Trader John Panin watches the numbers at the closing bell, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (Richard Drew/AP)

Trader John Panin watches the numbers at the closing bell, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (Richard Drew/AP)

Fear dominated financial markets again on Thursday and US stocks fell sharply on worries about the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak.

It is the latest shudder in Wall Street’s wildest week in more than eight years.

Major US indexes lost roughly 3.5% and Treasury yields touched more record lows.

The slide nearly wiped out the surge that stocks had ridden just a day earlier, which came in part on hopes that moves by authorities around the world could cushion the economic fallout.

These vicious swings are likely only to continue, as long as the number of new infections continues to accelerate, many analysts and professional investors say.

Thursday was the fourth straight day where the S&P 500 moved at least 2%, the longest such stretch since the summer of 2011.

The growing understanding that the spread of infections — and resulting damage to the economy — may not slow any time soon is pulling sharply on markets.

That pull has taken turns this week with the increasingly worldwide push that governments and central banks are trying to give markets through spending plans and interest rate cuts.

“It’s been a roller-coaster market in recent days for equity investors, and today we appear to be on the downward leg for that ride,” said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at US Bank Wealth Management. “What you need is time, and unfortunately that is still going to result in volatility.”

In China, where the number of new infections has been slowing drastically, stocks trading in Shanghai have rallied nearly 12% since hitting a bottom on February 3.

The Western world is now following some of China’s playbook, closing schools and declaring a state of emergency for example, but there is a sense that this is too little, too late.Chris Beauchamp

Factories are gradually reopening and a return to a sense of normal life may even be on the horizon following swift and severe actions by the government to control the virus.

But elsewhere in the world, the mood is darker. There are about 17 times as many new infections outside China as in it, according to the World Health Organisation.

In the US, the death toll climbed to 11 due to the virus. California declared a statewide emergency, and Southwest Airlines warned its investors that it has seen a significant decline in demand in recent days.

The S&P 500 fell 106.18, or 3.4%, to 3,023.94. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped 969.58, or 3.6%, to 26,121.28, and the Nasdaq lost 279.49, or 3.1%, to 8,738.60.

Losses were widespread and energy stocks in the S&P 500 dropped to their lowest level since March 2009, when they were emerging from the financial crisis.

“The Western world is now following some of China’s playbook, closing schools and declaring a state of emergency for example, but there is a sense that this is too little, too late,” said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG.

Travel-related companies continued to fall sharply on worries that frightened customers will not want to confine themselves in planes or boats with others. Royal Caribbean Cruises sank 16.3%, Carnival fell 14.1% and American Airlines Group lost 13.4%.

A growing list of companies is warning investors that the virus is hitting their sales and profits, and investors are left with a lot of uncertainty about just how much economic growth will be affected.

“We could probably drive a metaphorical truck between the upside and downside cases here,” said Jason Pride, chief investment officer for private wealth at Glenmede.

PA