Wall Street took a beating Monday as collapsing oil prices and fears about the impact of the coronavirus almost nudged the American economy out of the longest bull market in history, exactly 11 years to the day since it began.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the day with a loss of around 2,000 points Monday, part of a global market rout that saw spiraling sell-offs in the energy sector amid the biggest drop for crude oil since the Gulf War in 1991.
The blue-chip Dow saw its biggest points drop ever, down 7.8 percent, with the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq down by 7.6 percent and 7.2 percent respectively for one of the worst days since the financial crisis.
Crude oil prices cratered by 25 percent after the world’s producing countries failed to strike a deal at a meeting between oil cartel members in Vienna last week. The stalemate continued over the weekend, with Saudi Arabia and Russia reportedly planning to ramp up production on their own terms after the current deal expires at the end of the month.
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By Monday morning, traders on Wall Street were bracing for a meltdown — which came just minutes into the day’s trading, after the S&P plunged past the 7 percent decline milestone, triggering a circuit breaker that halted all action on the New York Stock Exchange for 15 minutes.
The continued sell-off after trading resumed prompted action from the White House, with Wall Street executives scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump on Wednesday to discuss the response to the outbreak.
Corporate America’s slew of policy updates and abandoned financial forecasts has put major banks and companies at odds with an administration that has dismissed Wall Street’s recent roller-coaster dips as an “overreaction.”
“We’ve basically lost all our anchors,” Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz, said Monday morning. “We lost the economic anchor with the coronavirus. We’ve lost the policy anchor with people losing confidence in the Fed’s ability to turn things around. And over the weekend, we lost a market anchor with OPEC,” he told CNBC.
Wall Street is now pricing in an additional rate cut from the Federal Reserve, anticipating that the central bank will slash the current range of 1 percent to 1.25 percent this month to zero, a level not seen since the financial crisis.
The next Fed meeting is set for March 17-18 in Washington, but some market watchers say a move could come sooner. The economic fallout from the virus pushed the Fed to implement an emergency rate cut last week, the first time it has made such a decision since the Lehman Brothers bank collapse in 2008, one of the triggers of the recession.
Economists point out, however, that the Fed’s policy toolbox can go only so far to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus.