Virus outbreak: Stocks fall sharply on Wall Street; Dow Jones sinks 3.8%

Traders work during the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on February 27, 2020 at Wall Street in New York City. ( Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images )

U.S. stocks fell sharply in early trading Friday and were on track for their worst week since October 2008 as the spreading coronavirus threatens to derail the global economy.

The virus outbreak has been shutting down industrial centers, emptying shops and severely crimping travel all over the world. More companies are warning investors that their finances will take a hit because of disruptions to supply chains and sales. Governments are taking increasingly drastic measures as they scramble to contain the virus.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 974 points, or 3.8%, to 24,791 as of 10:11 a.m. The S&P 500 lost 3.7% and the Nasdaq fell 3.2%. China’s benchmark index fell 3.7% and Germany’s DAX fell 4.1%.

The benchmark S&P 500 index has now lost 15% since hitting a record high just 10 days ago. Crude oil prices fell again. The rout has knocked every major index into what market watchers call a “correction,” or a fall of 10% from a peak. The last time that occurred was in late 2018, and market watchers have said for months that stocks were heavily overpriced and long overdue for another pullback.

Bond prices soared again as investors sought safety and became more pessimistic about the economy's prospects. That pushed yields to more record lows. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell sharply, to 1.17% from 1.30% late Thursday. That yield is a benchmark for home mortgages and many other kinds of loans.

Crude oil prices slumped 4.2% over worries that global travel and shipping will be severely crimped and hurt demand for energy.

The weeklong market sell-off follows months of uncertainty about the spread of the virus, which hit China in December and shut down large swaths of that nation by January. China is still the hardest hit country and has most of the 83,000 cases worldwide and related deaths.

Uncertainty turned into fear as the virus started jumping to places outside of the epicenter and dashed hopes for containment.

Airlines and cruise operators have suffered some of the worst hits as flight routes are cancelled, along with travel plans. Big names like Apple and Budweiser brewer AB InBev are part of a growing list of companies expecting financial pain from the virus. Dell and athletic-wear company Columbia Sportswear are the latest companies expecting an impact to their bottom lines.

Many companies face the prospect of crimped financial results with their stocks already trading at high levels relative to their earnings. Before the virus worries exploded, investors had been pushing stocks higher on expectations that strong profit growth was set to resume for companies after declining for most of 2019. If profit growth doesn’t ramp up this year, that makes a highly priced stock market even more vulnerable.

Nearly 60 nations representing every continent, except Antarctica, have confirmed cases. The virus outbreak has prompted a wide range of reactions from nations hoping to contain its spread and economic impact.

The Geneva auto show was cancelled as Swiss authorities banned large events of more than 1,000 people. Parts of Italy’s northern industrial and financial center remain under quarantine. Japan is preparing to close schools nationwide. The U.S. is preparing for the virus after a case unrelated to travel was confirmed in California.

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