Coronavirus fallout has Dow on track for worst first quarter ever

The S&P 500 is poised for its worst first quarter since 1938 as investors try to assess economic damage from virus.

A person wearing a face mask walks along Wall Street after further cases of coronavirus were confirmed in New York, US, where stocks on Tuesday were poised to close one of their most dismal quarters on record due to COVID-19 fallout [File: Andrew Kelly/Reuters]
A person wearing a face mask walks along Wall Street after further cases of coronavirus were confirmed in New York, US, where stocks on Tuesday were poised to close one of their most dismal quarters on record due to COVID-19 fallout [File: Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

United States stock markets opened lower on Tuesday, keeping the major share indexes on track for historically bad first quarters, as coronavirus containment measures wreak havoc on the US and global economies and investor uncertainty runs amok.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened down 103.13 points or 0.46 percent at 22,224.35. The index is firmly on track for its worst first quarter ever.

The S&P 500 Index – a proxy for US retirement and college savings accounts – opened down 0.56 percent, positioning the broader index for its worst first-quarter performance since 1938. 

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index opened down 0.37 percent. 

US stocks rallied on Monday, but the Dow and S&P are still down more than 20 percent from record highs achieved last month. 

The pain of coronavirus economic fallout has been felt around the world. European shares suffered their worst three months since 2002 and the United Kingdom’s FTSE last endured such a drop in 1987.

Governments around the globe have pledged trillions of dollars collectively in virus aid packages to keep workers and businesses afloat, while central bankers have slashed interest rates and pumped trillions of dollars into credit markets to keep them from freezing up.

All three major US indexes skyrocketed last week after legislators in Washington approved a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package to help individuals, industries and businesses hit hard by coronavirus containment measures.

Over the weekend, US President Donald Trump scrapped his initial plan to get the economy back up and running in April and extended stay-at-home guidelines through the end of next month. Entire sectors of the global economy have shut down with a swiftness and severity that has drawn comparisons with the opening days of the Great Depression that started in 1929.

A glimmer of hope surfaced on Tuesday from China where the coronavirus outbreak originated late last year but is now ebbing. Chinese government data showed that factories shuttered to curb the spread of the virus slowly oiled up their machines in March. But that was on the heels of a plunge in February and analysts caution that a near-term recovery in manufacturing is far from certain as foreign demand for Chinese products continues to slump. 

A rebound in oil prices from 18-year lows after the United States and Russia agreed to discuss stabilizing energy markets helped lift shares of Exxon Mobil and Chevron in New York trading.

Cruise operators and airlines – among the most battered stocks as the coronavirus outbreak brought global travel to a standstill this month –  also rose between 6 percent and percent in early Tuesday trading.

Goldman Sachs analysts on Wednesday adjusted their estimates for US economic growth and unemployment. Goldman now sees the US economy contracting 9 percent in the first quarter and 34 percent in the second quarter on an annualized basis and the unemployment rate spiking to 15 percent by midyear.

“While the uncertainty is substantial, we expect the lockdowns and social distancing to result in sharply lower new infections over the next month, and our baseline is that slower virus spread and adaptation by businesses and individuals should set the stage for a gradual recovery in output starting in May/June,” Goldman said in a note to clients.

Investors continue to struggle through to gain clarity on the extent of the longer term and lasting economic damage wrought by the pandemic.

“There will be no pent-up demand at the end of this, and the process of restarting will take time. Even though people will have cabin fever, their desire to rush out to malls or jump on an airplane will likely be muted by lingering virus concerns and from altered behaviors,” Steven Ricchiuto, Chief Economist of Mizuho Securities USA, said in a note to investors.

“No matter what assurances people and companies are given from the government, the lingering uncertainty will remain for some time.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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