WYSO

Dow Dives 1,400 Points, Entering Bear Market, As Coronavirus Fears Grow

Mar 11, 2020
Originally published on March 11, 2020 5:38 pm

Updated at 5:18 p.m. ET

Major stock indexes plunged again on Wednesday, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more than 20% from its peak in February. The meant that the blue chip index entered bear market territory, ending its 11-year winning streak.

The blue chip index fell 1,464 points, or nearly 5.9%. The S&P 500 slid 4.9% and the Nasdaq lost 4.7% — and put those indexes down 19.2% from their peaks.

Just on Monday, the stock market had its worst drop since 2008 amid fears that the growing spread of coronavirus would push the global economy into recession.

Early Wednesday afternoon, the World Health Organization declared that the disease COVID-19, caused by coronavirus, is a pandemic. As of Tuesday, the WHO was reporting about 120,000 cases in 114 countries on six continents.

President Trump told reporters he will be making a statement about coronavirus Wednesday night. He made the comments as he met with the chief executives of major banks.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told House lawmakers the administration is considering several ways to help businesses affected by coronavirus-related disruptions.

"There are a large number of workers that are going to be required to self-quarantine or be at home to take care of family members who are self-quarantined," he said. "For small and medium-sized businesses, we think it's appropriate for the government to pick up those costs."

Mnuchin said officials are also considering extending deadlines for tax payments for individuals and small businesses. And he said the administration is considering giving federal loan guarantees to some industries that are "highly impacted by travel."

The airline industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus, as people and businesses cancel travel plans. In an interview with NPR's Peter O'Dowd on Wednesday, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes compared the impact to the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"I would say we're in the middle of a very significant impact, some would say devastating impact, to the airline industry," Hayes said. "There were lots of concerns just after 9/11 about flying. And we're really seeing the same now with the coronavirus."

But, he said, the industry is better able to withstand the economic shock than it was during the 2008 financial crisis. "It's pretty healthy. We've all built stronger balance sheets. We've all got good liquidity. And so I think the economic backdrop for airlines is very different," Hayes said.

The Federal Reserve and other central banks have been cutting interest rates, and the U.S. and other governments have been rolling out aid and stimulus proposals to help cushion the economic blow of the outbreak.

The Bank of England was the latest central bank to lower rates, announcing an emergency 0.5-percentage-point cut on Wednesday. It said the cut "will help to support business and consumer confidence at a difficult time, to bolster the cash flows of businesses and households, and to reduce the cost, and to improve the availability, of finance."

Oil prices, which can reflect economic demand, have also been volatile after Saudi Arabia unexpectedly decided to slash its prices for crude last weekend. The price of oil fell 3.6% Wednesday. It has dropped 29% over the past five trading days.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is another stomach-churning day in financial markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than a thousand points in the first 90 minutes of trading this morning. Investors are trying to assess the potential economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak. They're also weighing the likelihood of government action to address the challenge. We've got NPR's economics correspondent Scott Horsley in studio. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So give us the lowdown. What's happening in the market so far?

HORSLEY: Well, the Dow Industrial Average is down a little over a thousand points, about 4.33% (ph). The broader S&P 500 index is also down about 4% today. So it's been another big sell-off morning on Wall Street.

MARTIN: I mean, but it hasn't been consistent, right? There's been such a sense of whiplash, up and down. Monday, the Dow fell more than 2,000 points. Yesterday, it bounced partway back, regaining more than 1,100. Today, it's down again. They're such huge swings. And it's hard not to feel like the markets are playing with people's emotions, right?

HORSLEY: Yeah. The general trend for the last 2 1/2 weeks has been down, but there have been days when someone's sort of pulled the parachute cord and arrested the fall or even triggered a mini rebound. One of those came on Tuesday evening when President Trump went in front of the television cameras and said, look; the federal government is going to step in, and we're going to have a significant rescue package to sort of prop up the economy in the face of this coronavirus outbreak. That led to kind of a rally on Wall Street yesterday. But now there seems to be some doubt that that package is going to come together anytime soon. And so investors are sort of back in the dumps today. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was on Capitol Hill this morning, and he's urging lawmakers to act fast.

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Isn't going to be the last time we do this, so we want to get something done quickly. But I can assure you, we're going to be back one, two, three for the hardworking people, small and medium-size independent people that are directly impacted by this, OK? That's where we need to provide economic support.

HORSLEY: The administration is proposing a payroll tax cut, but that's gotten a pretty chilly reception from congressional Democrats and some Republicans as well. They're also talking about some targeted relief for industries like airlines have been hard-hit. And then one idea which is popular with lawmakers is to provide help for people who don't have sick leave so they don't feel compelled to go to work even if they're under the weather...

MARTIN: Right.

HORSLEY: ...And possibly spread the virus.

MARTIN: So there's been a growing number of coronavirus cases in this country, but actually, the number of cases in China, where the outbreak began - I mean, that crisis there seems to have abated. Can you explain what all this means, not so much for the stock market, per se, but for the real economy?

HORSLEY: Things do seem to be getting better in China. Xi Jinping, the president, went to Hubei, the hard-hit province there, and so you can tell the Chinese officials feel as if they've got a handle on the epidemic. But factories there are still only working at about half capacity. Because of that delay, we're still seeing supply impacts here, components that are being delayed in getting here from China. That's affecting the supply side of the economy.

And then on the demand side, yesterday, we had Anthony Fauci, a public health official, saying we really need to adjust our lifestyles, so people aren't going out as much; they're not spending as much; they're not going to events and not traveling. All of that takes a toll on the economy as well.

MARTIN: NPR's chief economic correspondent Scott Horsley. Thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.