Global selloff continues as coronavirus batters markets

March 7, 2020, 12:12 AM UTC

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

Investors will be happy to see the end of the week, as the major exchanges took a pounding on Friday thanks to a coronavirus outbreak that has officially reached the ominous milestone of 100,000 infections around the world.

Markets update

In Asia—where markets mostly outperformed those in Europe and North America this week—things took a turn for the worse today. Tokyo’s Nikkei fell nearly 3%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped more than 2%. On mainland China, the major indices in Shanghai and Shenzhen all dipped around 1%.

Europe saw heavier losses, with London’s FTSE down nearly 4%, Frankfurt’s DAX losing more than 3%, and both Paris’s CAC 40 and the pan-European STOXX 600 each dropping around 4%. 

In New York, any hopes that Friday’s impressive February job numbers (the U.S. economy added 273,000 jobs last month) or the passage of an $8.3 billion coronavirus aid package would stem Thursday’s losses fell by the wayside. The Dow Jones Industrial Average swooned at the opening bell and was down nearly 900 points at one point—but a late afternoon rally saved the day, and the index closed down only 257 points, or 1%. Likewise, late rallies for the Nasdaq Composite and S&P 500 limited their losses to around 2%.

It’s been a wild two weeks on Wall Street, with last week’s double-digit correction followed by this week’s frantic oscillations. But while Friday afternoon’s rally helped limit the damage and bring the market virtually back to par for the week, you can see that it’s been a brutal stretch as fears over the coronavirus outbreak’s impact have escalated:

Meanwhile, the CBOE Volatility Index, better known as the VIX, continued to spike, indicating that the market believes there’s more volatility yet to come. And in a sign of how much investors are seeking solace in traditionally safer assets amid tumultuous equity markets, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to unprecedented lows—dipping below 0.7% at one point.

Along those lines, gold prices climbed again, while the dollar slipped once more. Crude oil got hammered as Russia backed out of Saudi-led OPEC production cuts, which translated to a rough day for the S&P 500’s energy sector—the hardest-hit of the 11 industry sectors tracked by the index, with losses of 5.6% on the day.

If you’ve had enough of this topsy-turvy market for one week, I can’t blame you. With that in mind, let’s all take a breather and enjoy the weekend; you’ll be back in Bernhard Warner’s more-than-capable hands on Monday.

Rey Mashayekhi

Today's reads

Time to buy the big banks? Financial stocks may have gotten hammered on Thursday, but Fortune's Shawn Tully writes that now may be the time to invest in the "marquee-name big banks." As Shawn notes, Bank of AmericaJPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo have shed a combined $143 billion in market capitalization since mid-December—but most big banks continue to be hugely profitable, and can now be bought at very attractive price-to-earnings ratios.

Divide and conquer. Speaking of the big banks: like many businesses, they're taking steps to safeguard themselves against the coronavirus outbreak. For some banks, that involves splitting their people up and moving them around; Business Insider reports that Bank of America is relocating a "select number" of its Manhattan-based trading staff to a back-up office in Stamford, Conn. That follows similar moves taken this week by Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase.

Private parts. Steven A. Cohen may be one of America's most high-profile hedge funders, but he's now reportedly looking to try his hand at the private markets. According to the Wall Street Journal, Cohen is aiming to raise up to $900 million for a new, hybrid venture- and private-equity fund that would focus on backing early-stage technology firms focused on artificial intelligence.

Market candy

 "You can’t open a closed factory with a rate cut. I don't think it's quite the right medicine for what’s ailing the global economic picture."

That's according to Charles Schwab chief global investment strategist Jeffrey Kleintop, who spoke with Fortune's Anne Sraders as she took a nervy market's pulse amid one of the most volatile weeks in recent memory. Despite that sentiment, many economists are predicting the Fed will cut interest rates further in the coming months; Barclays is forecasting two additional quarter-point cuts in March and April, "or even sooner."

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