The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped more than 1,000 points Monday in the worst day for the stock market in two years as investors worry that the spread of a viral outbreak that began in China will weaken global economic growth.
The viral outbreak threatens to crimp global economic growth and hurt profits and revenue for a wide range of businesses. Companies from technology giant Apple to athletic gear maker Nike have already warned about a hit to their bottom lines. Airlines and other companies that depend on travelers are facing pain from canceled plans and shuttered locations.
Traders sought safety in U.S. government bonds, gold and high-dividend stocks like utilities and real estate. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to the lowest level in more than three years.
Virus continues to spread
The number of people infected with the virus has ballooned to more than 79,000 people in Asia, crippling China’s economy. Rapidly spreading outbreaks have now been reported in Italy, Iran and South Korea.
South Korea is now on its highest alert for infectious diseases after cases there spiked. Italy reported a fifth person had died amid a sharp rise in cases and a dozen towns in the northern part of that country are under quarantine. The nation now has the biggest outbreak in Europe, prompting officials to cancel Venice’s famed Carnival, along with soccer matches and other public gatherings. In Iran, the virus reportedly has killed 50 in the city of Qom. Iraq confirmed the first case there Monday.
Investors have been on edge since the start of the crisis because of the role that China’s factories play in global business and because it is a huge consumer market itself. But fresh reports that the virus is not contained are “signaling alarm bells,” a market analyst at Citigroup wrote Monday.
“Stock markets around the world are beginning to price in what bond markets have been telling us for weeks – that global growth is likely to be impacted in a meaningful way due to fears of the coronavirus,” said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance.
Where markets closed
The Dow lost 1,031.61 points, or 3.6%, to 27,960.80. At its low point, it was down 1,079 points.
The S&P 500 index skidded 111.86 points, or 3.4%, to 3,225.89. The Nasdaq dropped 355.31 points, or 3.7%, to 9,221.28 — it’s biggest loss since December 2018.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks gave up 50.50 points, or 3%, to 1,628.10.
Investors looking for safe harbors bid up prices for U.S. government bonds and gold. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell sharply, to 1.37% from 1.47% late Friday. It was at 1.90% at the start of the year. Gold prices jumped 1.7%.
Crude oil prices
Crude oil prices slid 3.7%. Aside from air travel, the virus poses an economic threat to global shipping.
Benchmark crude oil fell $1.95 to settle at $51.43 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, dropped $2.20 to close at $56.30 a barrel.
The slump in U.S. indexes followed a sell-off in markets overseas as a surge in cases of the disease in South Korea and Europe rattled investors.
Tech companies hit hard
Technology companies were among the worst hit by the sell-off. Apple, which depends on China for a lot of business, slid 4.8%. Microsoft dropped 4.3%. Banks were also big losers. JPMorgan Chase fell 2.7% and Bank of America slid 4.7%.
Airlines and cruise ship operators also slumped. American Airlines lost 8.5%, Delta Air Lines dropped 6.3%, Carnival skidded 9.4% and Royal Caribbean Cruises tumbled 9%.
Gilead Sciences climbed 4.6% and was among the few bright spots. The biotechnology company is testing a potential drug to treat the new coronavirus. Bleach-maker Clorox was also a standout, rising 1.5%.
Utilities, real estate
Utilities and real estate companies held up better than most sectors. Investors tend to favor those industries, which carry high dividends and hold up relatively well during periods of turmoil, when they’re feeling fearful.
The rotation into defensive sectors has made utilities and real estate the biggest gainers this year, while technology stocks have lost ground.
“The yields have been moving lower all year, so that’s providing a tail wind for utilities, for real estate,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. “In the face of this heightened uncertainty, especially if it’s centered overseas, tech is going to bear some of the brunt of that because it’s been so popular, because it’s done so well, and because it has so much exposure to Asia.”
In the eyes of some analysts, Monday’s tank job for stocks means they’re just catching up to the bond market, where fear has been dominant for months.
U.S. government bonds are seen as some of the safest possible investments, and investors have been piling into them throughout 2020, even as stocks overcame stumbles to set more record highs. The 10-year yield on Monday was near its intraday record low of 1.325% set in July 2016, according to Tradeweb. The 30-year Treasury yield fell further after setting its own record low, down to 1.83% from 1.92% late Friday.
In other commodities trading Monday, wholesale gasoline fell 4 cents to $1.61 per gallon, heating oil declined 8 cents to $1.61 per gallon and natural gas fell 8 cents to $1.83 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Gold rose $27.80 to $1,672.40 per ounce, silver rose 35 cents to $18.87 per ounce and copper fell 3 cents to $2.59 per pound.
The dollar fell to 110.74 Japanese yen from 111.62 yen on Friday. The euro weakened to $1.0842 from $1.0858.
— Information provided by The Associated Press was used to supplement this report. Compiled by ArLuther Lee for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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