Starting Tuesday, the central bank will buy significant amounts of commercial paper, the short-term loans that businesses rely on for funding to pay bills and other expenses. The Fed did the same thing during the Great Recession and ended up buying about $350 billion worth of these loans, or about 20 percent of this market.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also told reporters that the White House was looking at giving direct cash payments to Americans as part of a massive economic stimulus package of around $850 billion, which the White House hopes could stanch the economic free fall caused by the coronavirus. President Trump had initially supported a payroll tax holiday, but said Tuesday that would take too long to deliver relief to Americans.
“We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin said Tuesday at a briefing. “And I mean, now in the next two weeks.”
The news delivered a much-needed jolt to U.S. markets, which had been oscillating wildly between positive and negative territory on the heels of their worst day of trading since the 1987 “Black Monday” crash. Around 3:30, the Dow was up more than 645 points, or 3.2 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index climbed 4.1 percent, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq jumped 4.5 percent.
Volatility has reigned as investors struggle to parse the coronavirus’ increasingly disruptive presence in the United States and the growing threat of a recession. The highly-watched Cboe Volatility Index, Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” saw its highest-ever close Monday after the Dow plunged 3,000 points. The new high eclipsed the one set during the financial crisis.
“This is unlike anything we have ever seen,” said Jeffrey Kleintop, chief global investment strategist at Charles Schwab. “The impact this is having, not only on energy markets, but financial services, the travel industry and people’s everyday lives is really immeasurable.”
Monday’s rout came after the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to zero and said it would revive “quantitative easing,” a remnant of the financial crisis. Last-minute losses came after President Trump warned that disruption from the coronavirus pandemic could last through August and issued new public health guidance, saying Americans should limit gatherings to no more than 10 people.