Stocks falter as US death toll from coronavirus tops 4,500

Jessica Menton, USA TODAY

U.S. stocks tumbled Wednesday at the start of a new quarter, as rising numbers of coronavirus cases from the pandemic dampened the outlook for the global economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 973.65 points to close at 20,943.51, a day after the blue-chip index posted its worst first quarter ever. The Standard & Poor’s 500 sank 4.4% to finish at 2,470.50. All of the 11 sectors in the broad index ended lower, led by declines in financial, real estate and utility shares. 

The losses come as President Donald Trump warned Americans to brace for a “hell of a bad two weeks” ahead as the White House projected there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. 

The U.S. coronavirus death toll surpassed 4,500 Wednesday. Worldwide, there are more than 46,000 deaths and more than 921,000 confirmed cases. The U.S., which has now surpassed China’s death toll, has surpassed 200,000 confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard.

Rent: What happens if you can't pay rent on April 1 because coronavirus forced you out of work?

Coronavirus: How quickly can the economy bounce back?

Traders say lingering uncertainty over how long the shutdown may last has made forecasting U.S. growth difficult as a new quarter begins. On Tuesday, Goldman Sachs economists projected the U.S. economy would contract 34% in the second quarter, but they expect economic activity to rebound in the third quarter.

“It is now all but inevitable that we will see a deep contraction in economic activity in the U.S. as a result of the shutdown implemented to contain the virus,” Anwiti Bahuguna, head of multi-asset strategy at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, said in a note. “What we are experiencing now is the equivalent of putting a patient in a medically-induced coma – a calculated, temporary risk with the goal of establishing greater longer-term health.”

Trader Timothy Nick, left, and specialist Michael Pistillo work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on March 9. U.S. stocks collapsed after a free fall in oil prices and mounting coronavirus cases ratcheted up fear among investors and threatened to snuff out the longest bull market on the very day it was supposed to turn 11.

Financial companies came under pressure after major banks in Europe like Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Barclays announced they were scrapping dividend payments, bringing their share prices sharply lower. JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs shed at least 6%. 

Investors are looking ahead to Friday’s U.S. jobs report, which will likely show a sharp drop in payrolls. Companies soon will begin reporting their earnings results for the first quarter. Analysts are looking for the steepest drop in profits since early 2016, according to FactSet.

Data released Wednesday showed that companies reduced payrolls by 27,000 in early March before the worst of the effects from the pandemic was seen in the labor market, according to payrolls processor ADP.

Wall Street will also keep a close eye on initial jobless claims figures, due Thursday, after data last week showed claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.3 million.

The rise of coronavirus cases around the world has sent financial markets into a tailspin since mid-February, with the S&P 500 recording its worst quarter since the financial crisis in 2008. Stocks have cut their losses in recent weeks on hopes that massive aid from governments and central banks around the world can blunt the blow. 

In Europe, France’s CAC 40 fell 4.3% while Germany’s DAX shed 3.9%. Britain’s FTSE 100 dropped 3.8%. In Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 dropped 4.5%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 2.2%, while the Shanghai Composite fell 0.6%.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dow: Stocks falter as death toll from coronavirus tops 4,500