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A devastating day leaves the Dow only 210 points from bear market territory

March 9, 2020, 9:29 PM UTC

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It should have been the bull market’s 11th birthday on Monday: Since March 9, 2009, stocks have notched record-setting gains without a market crash; as recently as Feb. 19—less than three weeks ago—the S&P 500 closed at an all-time high of 3386.15.

Instead, the stock market recorded its worst day since the depths of the financial crisis in December 2008, as a Saudi-prompted crash in oil prices combined with spiraling fears that coronavirus quarantines could freeze the global economy. A swift selloff forced a rare halt in all stock trading just moments after the market opened Monday, as a 7% decline in stocks triggered what’s known as “circuit breakers” on the exchanges.

By the end of the trading day, the major stock indexes had lost nearly 8% of their value, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging 7.8%, the S&P 500 falling 7.6%, and the Nasdaq closing down about 7.3%. Even Walmart, which for most of the day was the only one of the Dow index’s 30 stocks in positive territory, turned slightly negative before the closing bell.

Now, the S&P 500 is down almost 19% from its recent peak last month, putting it on the teetering edge of a bear market, defined as a 20% decline from the high. Indeed, if it does not achieve a new record before falling further—just another 38 points, to 2708.92, to put it below the 20% threshold—the longest-ever bull market will officially be over, according to Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist of CFRA.

Still, it wasn’t bad news for all stocks on Monday. While oil companies and industrial stocks were hardest hit, investors bought up shares of familiar recession go-tos, such as dollar stores and auto parts companies (which car owners tend to frequent during hard times for repairs and upgrades rather than purchasing a more costly new vehicle). Autozone was the biggest winner in the S&P 500, up more than 5% for the day, followed by Dollar Tree, which climbed more than 4%.

“Before the bull can blow out the proverbial candles, it needs to climb out from under an avalanche of assumptions for global GDP and EPS growth that have been dampened by the prospects of a worldwide recession brought on the spread of Covid-19,” Stovall wrote in a note Monday morning.

Likewise, the DJIA need only fall less than 210 points, to 23,641.14, to officially hit bear market territory.

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