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Coronavirus fears spur more volatility as 10-year Treasury yield hits an all-time low

March 6, 2020, 1:12 AM UTC

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Good evening, Bull Sheeters. This is Fortune finance reporter Rey Mashayekhi, filling in this week for Bernhard Warner.

Thursday was a good day for markets in Asia, but investors in Europe and especially the U.S. felt more pain as the global economy continues to come to grips with the coronavirus outbreak.

Markets update

In Tokyo, the Nikkei rose 1%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rallied late in the day to finish up 2%. Markets in mainland China continued to rebound from last week’s losses, with the major indices in Shanghai and Shenzhen also registering gains of 2%.

Perhaps the Asian markets were piggybacking on yesterday’s optimism in the western markets—optimism that faded away virtually from the opening bell on Thursday, despite the International Monetary Fund announcing a $50 billion aid package to help combat the coronavirus’s spread. In Europe, London’s FTSE, Frankfurt’s DAX, and the pan-European STOXX 600 all dropped around 1.5%, while Paris’s CAC 40 slipped nearly 2%.

But the steepest declines were seen in New York, where the market continues to yo-yo in delirious fashion. The buzz from Joe Biden’s strong Super Tuesday performance faded quickly, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average gave back most of Wednesday’s gains, ending down 970 points, or 3.6%. Likewise, the Nasdaq Composite and S&P 500 each fell more than 3%.

Meanwhile, investors responded by continuing to flock to safer, non-equity assets. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note once again dipped below 1% yield and at one point fell to an all-time low below 0.9%, while gold—another traditional safe haven—rose. Crude oil prices dropped despite OPEC agreeing to a new round of production cuts, and the U.S. dollar slipped.

Banks and travel companies hit hard

Among the industry sectors tracked by the S&P 500, financials fared among the worst, losing 4.9% by the close of trading (only industrials saw a steeper decline). Lower interest rates may be good for borrowers, but they’re a headwind for financial institutions, and bank stocks showed it on Thursday. Shares of JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs each dropped nearly 5%, while regional consumer-facing banks Truist Financial and M&T Bank each lost 8%.

But on a company-by-company basis, no sector felt Thursday’s pain worse than those in the travel industry—with the coronavirus squarely to blame. Airline operators saw double-digit declines in their shares; American Airlines (-13.4%), United Airlines (-13.3%), and Alaska Air (-12.5%) were among the biggest losers, with United announcing on Wednesday that it will be cutting back service both domestically and internationally. (The outbreak was also the final nail in the coffin for beleaguered British airline Flybe, which declared bankruptcy on Thursday.) Cruise lines got hit even worse; Royal Caribbean plunged more than 16%, Carnival fell 14%, and Norwegian lost 13%.

VIX spikes on virus fears

The CBOE Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, is one of the benchmark metrics used to gauge the stock market’s expectations of volatility in the near-term. And look at how the VIX has spiked over the past month, as the coronavirus outbreak has escalated:

The “fear index,” as it’s known, spiked 24% Thursday as the market continued its topsy-turvy fluctuations—and it would appear to indicate that we’re not out of the woods yet. Perhaps the U.S. jobs report for February—which is out Friday morning and expected to show gains—can calm things down a bit.

That’s all for now. Have a pleasant evening and see you tomorrow.

Rey Mashayekhi

Today's reads

Dimon has heart surgery. Late on Thursday evening, JPMorgan Chase revealed that CEO Jamie Dimon is recovering from emergency heart surgery after experiencing an "acute aortic dissection" earlier in the day. "The good news is that it was caught early and the surgery was successful," the bank said in a statement. "He is awake, alert and recovering well." Daniel Pinto and Gordon Smith, JPMorgan's co-presidents and chief operating officers, will handle day-to-day operations while Dimon recuperates.

Robinhood backlash. Fortune's Lucinda Shen has the latest on the situation at popular stock trading app Robinhood, which was hit by an ill-timed service outage earlier this week that prevented users from trading during one of the most volatile stretches in recent memory. As you would expect, many of those users are not happy, and legal action appears an inevitability.

Yield of (bad) dreams. As we covered earlier, U.S. Treasury yields are plunging, and Fortune's Erik Sherman explains why this could mean serious trouble for a huge cross-section of fixed-income investors. "Retirees, savers, insurance companies, pension funds, and others that depend on generating a return over time with little risk are facing a world where they are going to lose money," he writes.

Market candy


That’s the number of times that the Federal Reserve’s most recent Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions—more commonly known as the Beige Book—mentions the coronavirus by name. As George Washington University professor Tara Sinclair notes, the virus is name-dropped more times than the terms “labor” and “employment.” Unsurprisingly, the Beige Book, which was released Wednesday, indicated that the coronavirus is weighing on the minds of American businesses.