Dow in bear market as global rout deepens on coronavirus fears

John BIERS
Markets got no relief on Wednesday, with new salvos in the oil price war as investors waited for action on the coronavirus, now considered by the WHO a pandemic (AFP Photo/ADEK BERRY)

Wall Street stocks suffered another bruising rout Wednesday, with the Dow sinking into a bear market, as the economic toll from the coronavirus mounts with more major event cancelations.

The latest announcements included the cancelation of the Houston Rodeo and the World Figure Skating Championships, scheduled for Montreal, while the giant "March Madness" college basketball tournament will be closed to paying fans.

Hilton became the latest big company to withdraw its earnings forecast, while Boeing announced that it would suspend most hiring and overtime pay as a massive slowdown in travel further dims its outlook amid the 737 MAX crisis.

"All these announcements coming out are sending people running for the hills," said Maris Ogg of Tower Bridge Advisors. "It's still gonna take some time until the market gets past the panic."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged around 1,465 points, or 5.9 percent, to 23,553.22, yet another brutal daily drop that left the index more than 20 percent below its peak, making it a bear market.

Earlier, leading stock markets in Asia and Europe also retreated, including in London, where the FTSE 100 dove 1.4 percent despite the Bank of England slashing its key interest rate to a record low and the government pledging fiscal stimulus worth £30 billion ($39 billion, 34.4 billion euros).

British Finance minister Rishi Sunak told parliament that COVID-19 "will have a significant impact on the UK economy -- but it will be temporary".

Sunak warned of likely short-term economic disruption, as up to a fifth of the UK's working-age population could be off sick at any one time.

- Oil falls again -

Oil prices slid further after Saudi Arabia and Gulf partner UAE stepped up a price war with plans to flood the global markets.

The move is the latest escalation of a fight among oil producers after Russia balked at an OPEC-backed plan to cut production in response to lost demand from the coronavirus.

"These increases, in addition to boosts already announced by Russia as well as other OPEC members, combined with expectations of flat to negative demand growth stemming from COVID-19, may keep crude prices suppressed for the long-haul," said a note from Christin Redmond of Schneider Electric.

While US stocks rallied on Tuesday, equities have been on a broad downward trend for the last three weeks or so as the coronavirus has morphed from a China-centered problem to a global worry, threatening the 11-year "bull" market for US stocks.

Wall Street stocks were in the red all day, but losses accelerated after the World Health Organization called the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, issuing a grim warning that the global spread and severity of the illness was due to "alarming levels of inaction."

There have been more than 124,000 confirmed cases of the virus, which has caused more than 4,500 fatalities and spread to more than 100 countries and territories.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told a congressional panel the administration was "working full time" on a package, although key lawmakers balked at a payroll tax relief plan floated by the administration.

- Key figures around 2100 GMT -

New York - Dow: DOWN 5.9 percent at 23,553.22 (close)

New York - S&P 500: DOWN 2,741.38 (close)

New York - Nasdaq: DOWN 4.7 percent at 7,952.05 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 1.4 percent at 5,876.52 (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.4 percent at 10,438.68 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.6 percent at 4,610.25 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.2 percent at 2,905.56 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 2.3 percent at 19,416.06 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.6 percent at 25,231.61 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.9 percent at 2,968.52 (close)

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 4.0 percent at $32.98 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 3.8 percent at $35.79 per barrel

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1276 from $1.1281 at 2200 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 104.54 yen from 105.64 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2825 from $1.2911

Euro/pound: UP at 87.91 pence from 87.37 pence

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