The Standard & Poor’s 500 index sailed up nearly 6 percent, and the Nasdaq composite gained about 6.2 percent. The advances came after the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government rolled out plans to blunt the spread of the disease and its effect on American lives, from a reported $1 trillion stimulus to a $10 billion credit infusion to a pledge to help beleaguered Boeing.
“The volatility shows the desperation on Wall Street to find fair value,” said Michael Farr, president of Farr, Miller & Washington, an investment management firm. “Each news release and statistic is greeted with 1,000-point swings.”
One big fix came Tuesday morning, when the Fed announced plans to launch a special fund to keep credit flowing during the coronavirus crisis. That gave the Dow a 1,100-point lift, though the blue-chip index gave up more than half those gains by midafternoon.
Starting Tuesday, the central bank will buy significant amounts of commercial paper, the short-term loans on which businesses rely 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 Steve Mnuchin said on March 17 that he wants aid packages to total $1 trillion in response to the coronavirus. (The Washington Post)
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also announced that the White House was looking at giving direct cash payments to Americans as part of an $850 billion stimulus package, which the administration hopes will stanch the economic free fall caused by the coronavirus. President Trump initially supported a payroll tax holiday but said Tuesday that it 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 break for U.S. markets, which had been bouncing wildly between positive and negative territory on the heels of their worst day of trading since the 1987 Black Monday crash. All 11 S&P stock sectors were positive. All but three of the Dow 30 components were positive, with Dow Inc., Intel and Travelers the big winners. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note, a key fixture of global finance, flew above 1 percent — a sign of happy investors.
Boeing and McDonald’s were the losers. The fast-food giant expects to take a hit because nearly all its franchises are operating only drive-through, takeout and delivery services.
The decline of Boeing stock, once a Dow powerhouse, in some ways reflects the fall of the 11-year bull market that ended last week. At $125 per share, it was trading at a fraction of the $400 it commanded a year ago, before problems surfaced in the aviation company’s 737 Max jet.
Oil prices continued to bleed, dropping further below $30 per barrel and threatening to send American shale companies into bankruptcy.
Volatility has reigned as investors have struggled to parse the coronavirus’s increasingly disruptive presence in the United States, as well as the growing threat of a recession. The closely watched Cboe Volatility Index, Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” saw its highest-ever close Monday after the Dow plunged 3,000 points. The index’s new high eclipsed the one set during the 2008 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 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.
The Post’s Paul Kane explains what’s next for the House and Senate as they embark on a major economic relief package to aid those affected by coronavirus. (The Washington Post)
“I remember some breathtaking sell-offs after 9/11,” said Kristina Hooper, Invesco’s chief global market strategist. “But this more closely resembles the crazy moves I saw during the global financial crisis.”
When asked if there was a 100 percent chance of the U.S. economy tipping into a recession, as some economists have predicted, Trump said, “It may be.” Ratings company S&P Global is now forecasting a worldwide recession this year, with global gross domestic product growth of just 1 to 1.5 percent in 2020.
“The initial data from China suggests that its economy was hit far harder than projected, though a tentative stabilization has begun,” S&P Global’s chief economist, Paul Gruenwald, said in comments emailed to The Washington Post. “Europe and the U.S. are following a similar path, as increasing restrictions on person-to-person contacts presage a demand collapse that will take activity sharply lower in the second quarter before a recovery begins later in the year.”
Ed Yardeni of Yardeni Research has joined the pessimist camp. He estimates a 4 to 6 percent GDP drop in the second quarter, followed by a decline of as much as 4 percent in the third quarter.
“That would be a severe recession,” Yardeni said in his morning briefing. “The question is whether it will be a short one. Needless to say, that depends on the virus. I’m of the opinion that the worst will be over by midyear.”
Industries that have been walloped by the coronavirus are asking for government assistance to weather the storm. U.S. airlines are seeking more than $50 billion in federal aid amid the economic uncertainty caused by the dramatic decrease in passenger traffic. That would be more than three times what the industry received after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
Casinos are also asking Congress for emergency financial help. The American Gaming Association issued a statement to The Post on Monday, saying that with the $260 billion industry at a “near standstill,” additional funds are needed to support casino companies and their employees.
Major retailers, including Apple, Patagonia and Abercrombie & Fitch, are shutting their doors through March to try to contain the coronavirus. Though store closures could be crucial to slowing the spread of the disease, they also sap consumer spending, which powers 70 percent of the U.S. economy.
More than half the jobs in the economy — about 80 million — are at moderate or high risk of being negatively affected by the coronavirus outbreak, according to Moody’s Analytics, through decreased hours, lower pay or job loss.