“Every day we think we could be near a bottom, and every day we are not,” Helane Becker, an analyst at the financial services firm Cowen, wrote in a note Thursday.
In a blink, Wall Street’s free-fall this week erased one-third of stocks’ gains since President Trump’s November 2016 election. Amid mounting criticism of the administration’s handling of the epidemic, the president suddenly finds himself battling a medical, economic and political emergency.
The health challenge was underscored by confirmation in California of the first U.S. case that could not be linked to travel to China or to contact with a known coronavirus patient. On the economic front, Facebook canceled its largest annual developer conference, while manufacturers worried about Chinese suppliers that have not yet resumed normal production. Tesla’s stock price fell 13 percent Thursday alone.
But even as the life-or-death stakes and the financial toll loomed, political considerations were inescapable. In crowded rallies and White House events, the soaring stock market has been a staple of Trump’s reelection pitch to voters. “Highest Stock Market in history, By Far!” the president tweeted just eight days ago.
On Monday, after a 1,032-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average, Trump — a billionaire real estate executive who prides himself on his financial acumen — doubled down, tweeting: “Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
It has continued falling ever since, and now after a brutal four-day stretch, the market looks anything but good. Some Wall Street veterans said the virus was an external shock that had awakened investors to a sobering outlook.
“We were operating in never-never land for some time,” said Dan Alpert, managing partner of Westwood Capital, a New York-based investment bank.
The market reaction came one day after the president sought to reassure the nation at a White House news conference with members of his coronavirus task force, but was assailed for what critics said was a contradictory message.
“He staked his presidency on containing the virus,” said David Kotok, chairman of Cumberland Advisors. “The markets have repudiated him with a 1,000-point drop on the heels of a 1,000-point drop.”
The epidemic, which has spread from its origins in China to Japan, South Korea, Italy, Iran, the United States and numerous other countries, seems certain to put a sizable dent in global growth. Earlier this week, Capital Economics in London warned that the economic consequences of the spread of the coronavirus to multiple continents “could be as bad as those of the global financial crisis.”
The U.S. economy will average just 1.25 percent growth over the first half of the year, as the virus disrupts supply chains and keeps workers and shoppers on the sidelines, economist Michael Feroli of JPMorgan Chase wrote in a note to clients on Thursday. That would be roughly half the pace of last year.
Whatever the danger to the U.S. economy, Europe seems to be in even worse shape. The continent’s major economies were expected to grow by little more than 1 percent before the virus forced Italy to lock down northern territories that are responsible for almost one-third of the country’s production.
Now, recession looms as a genuine risk for Germany and Italy. After a decade of chronic weak growth and financial crises, European Central Bank officials have all but emptied their tool kit, leaving them with little ability to reverse the decline.
And in the United States on Thursday, the three major indexes fell into correction territory, a 10 percent reversal from a recent high that signals something is amiss to numbers-obsessed Wall Street. The speed of the declines was startling, with the Dow Jones industrial average tumbling from its all-time peak in only 10 sessions. The blue-chip index lost more than 3,200 points this week and had its worst point drop in history on Thursday.
“The Dow’s four-day decline this week is 11.13 percent, the worst since October 2008, when the blue chips fell 15 percent in four days,” said Howard Silverblatt of S&P Dow Jones Indices. The S&P has lost 12.04 percent in the last six sessions, which is also the fastest decline to correction since 2011.
It’s unclear when the uncertainty over the global public health crisis will end, which is a major reason Wall Street investors remain on edge.
“A 10 percent correction doesn’t mean anything to Joe Q. Public,” said Kenny Polcari of SlateStone Wealth. “But to Wall Street, which marks everything by numbers, it suggests a turning point in market psyche.”
Polcari said the good news about the panic-driven correction is that it suggests an emotional response and may be only temporary.
“A slower decline based on crumbling market fundamentals, which is not the case so far, would be more worrisome,” Polcari said.
Analysts expected the market to rebound strongly after a worldwide plunge Monday. But coronavirus cases have continued to pop up around the world, squashing rallies. The extreme volatility could persist until there are signs that the outbreak is under control, analysts say, despite warnings from health officials that community spread in the United States appears inevitable.
European stocks also entered correction territory on Thursday. The Pan-European Stoxx 600 fell 3.7 percent. Britain’s FTSE dropped 3.5 percent, and Germany’s DAX fell 3.2 percent. In Italy, the country with Europe’s weakest economic growth in 2019, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte this week said the economic blow could be “very strong.”
From an economic standpoint, much of the focus had been on coronavirus’s repercussions for global supply chains, which rely heavily on manufacturing and production from Chinese factories. But now that public health officials are bracing for the outbreak to spread in the United States, experts worry about an additional threat to the economy. Daily routines and consumer spending could grind to a halt if schools are closed, large gatherings are canceled and businesses close their doors.
“This is a surprise,” said Michael Farr, president of Farr, Miller & Washington, an investment firm. “This is something that the 30-year-old cohort of money managers and analysts haven’t seen before. This supply chain disruption is going to affect all economies, and markets are still trying to figure it out.”
Oil prices also continued to drop. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, drifted below $47, a new 52-week low. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note hit a new low, reflecting the anticipation that a slowdown is on the horizon.
Goldman Sachs said in a note Thursday that the virus would slow economic activity across the planet. The financial services giant predicts no earnings growth this year and modest earnings growth in 2021.
“Our reduced profit forecasts reflect the severe decline in Chinese economic activity in [the first three months of 2020], lower end-demand for U.S. exporters, disruption to the supply chain for many U.S. firms, a slowdown in U.S. economic activity, and elevated business uncertainty,” Goldman Sachs strategist David Kostin wrote in a note.
The outbreak has been met with inconsistent messaging from the Trump administration. Trump, concerned about the stock market, is urging aides not to discuss the outbreak in ways that could rattle the economy further. Late Monday, top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that investors should consider “buying these dips” in the market.
When the coronavirus outbreak first surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan, analysts initially sized up any potential hit to the global economy based on the 2002 SARS outbreak. But in the nearly 20 years since, the Chinese economy has become four times larger and substantially more intertwined with global production networks.,
The coronavirus’s rapid spread continues to raise the specter of a global pandemic. South Korea announced 256 new cases on Friday, bringing its total to 2,022, including a U.S. soldier stationed on the peninsula. Iran reported 245 confirmed cases and a death toll of 26. Religious pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia have been halted, and Tokyo’s plans to host the 2020 Olympics hang in the balance.
Even so, Trump struck an optimistic tone Wednesday evening during a White House news conference. Trump said the risk to America was “very low” and that the outbreak would swiftly be contained. Trump announced Vice President Pence will lead the administration’s response to the outbreak. And on Thursday, his comments remained upbeat, even after the steep stock market drop.
“I think it’s an incredible achievement what our country’s done,” Trump he told reporters at the White House, predicting eventually the virus would disappear.