Global shares sink on pandemic news, waning hopes for fix

TOKYO (AP) — Global shares plunged yesterday after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a coronavirus pandemic and indexes sank on Wall Street.

France’s CAC 40 slipped 6.6 per cent to 4,307.17, while Germany’s DAX lost 6.8 per cent to 9,732.75. Britain’s FTSE 100 plunged 5.7 per cent to 5,542.17.

The future contract for the Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped 5.2 per cent while the S&P 500’s lost five per cent.

On Wall Street overnight, the Dow fell into bear market territory, with a loss that dragged it 20 per cent below the record set last month. The broader S&P 500, which professional investors watch more closely, is a single percentage point away from falling into its own bear market, which would end the longest bull market in Wall Street history.

There was no sign of a revival of confidence in Asia. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 dived 4.4 per cent to 18,559.63, its lowest close in four years. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 dropped 7.4 per cent to 5,304.60. South Korea’s Kospi dipped 3.9 per cent to 1,834.33. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 3.7 per cent to 24,309.07, while the Shanghai Composite index shed 1.5 per cent to 2,923.49.

Thailand’s benchmark plunged 10 per cent in the afternoon session, triggering a 30-minute halt to trading. It fell further after trading resumed, losing 11 per cent. The Philippine market lost 10 per cent, also resulting in a trading halt. In both cases the declines were the worst single-day losses since the 2008 financial crisis.

India’s Sensex swooned 8.6 per cent.

A currency trader wearing a face mask watches monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea yesterday. PHOTO: AP

With the markets still falling, “we haven’t seen, you know, a significant buy-in interest yet, so traders are still in the get-out mode. They just want to have it in cash,” said Jackson Wong of Amber Hill Capital Ltd, in Hong Kong.

“So that’s a typical panic mode, but whether this panic mode will stop in the short term, it really will depend on how the virus incident goes forward,” Wong said.

The recent decline has been one of Wall Street’s swiftest retreats of this magnitude. The fastest the S&P 500 has ever fallen from a record into a bear market was over 55 days in 1987.

Vicious market swings are becoming routine as investors rush to sell amid uncertainty about how badly the outbreak will hit the economy.

Some economies were already slowing before the viral outbreak even began to cause massive disruptions, first in central China where the virus originated and gradually across Asia.

United States (US) President Donald Trump’s announcement of travel restrictions for most European countries added to concerns over disruptions to travel and trade, while the WHO’s warning over “alarming levels of inaction” by governments in corralling the virus further raised the alarm.

Trump hinted at plans for tax cuts and other economic relief late Monday, but he has yet to unveil any details. Lawmakers have resisted his proposal for a cut to payroll taxes.

“The market judgement on that (Trump’s) announcement is that it’s too little too late. And while travel restrictions on people coming from Europe are good from a health point of view, from the point of view of the economy, it’s very, very bad news,” said Michael McCarthy of CMC Markets.

He added, “there are real concerns imply not enough has been done to deal with the economic fallout of the virus and the verdict of the markets has been severe.”

Wednesday’s 1,464.90 point loss for the Dow wiped out its 1,167-point gain from Tuesday and stands as the index’s second-largest point drop, trailing only Monday’s plunge of 2,013.

Investors would like to see coordinated action from governments and central banks to stem the threat to the economy from the virus. Lower interest rates and government spending won’t solve the crisis — only containment of the virus can — but they can spur business activity and help prop up demand.

“The sheer speed and the size of the falls we’ve seen and the huge volumes of shares exchanging hands here and around the globe tells us that we’re not at the end of this as yet and we’re likely to see further damage over the coming days and weeks,” McCarthy said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus, but the fear is that the global economy could tip into a recession, with slowdowns in production and a plunge in business activity as people stay home instead of travelling, shopping or dining out.

Many analysts expect markets to swing sharply until the number of new infections stops accelerating. In the United States (US), the number of cases has topped 1,000. Worldwide, more than 126,000 people have been infected, and over 4,600 have died.

Treasury yields, one of the loudest alarm bells on Wall Street about the economic risks of the crisis, remain well below one per cent, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury at 0.74 per cent from 0.83 per cent late Wednesday. That’s a sign of diminished demand for safe investments.

Strategists at Goldman Sachs on Wednesday sharply cut their expectations for earnings growth this year, saying it will lead to the end of the bull market for the S&P 500, which began more than a decade ago. It said it expects the drawdown to be brief, however, as earnings rebound later in the year.

A plunge in crude prices has wiped out profits for energy companies, while record-low Treasury yields are squeezing the financial sector. Strategists say S&P 500 earnings per share could fall enough to drag the index down to 2,450 in the middle of the year. That would be a nearly 28 per cent drop from its record.

In other trading, benchmark US crude lost USD1.64 to USD31.35 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost USD1.38 to USD32.98 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, the standard for international pricing, gave up USD1.76 to USD34.03 per barrel.

The dollar weakened to JPY103.78 from JPY104.53 yen on Wednesday. The euro inched down to USD1.1239 from USD1.1271.