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Markets roar back after Monday’s historic sell-off

March 10, 2020, 10:28 AM UTC

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Greetings from lockdown land. After a miserable Monday, today’s markets are…on the mend. Up nicely, actually.

We’re a long way from any meaningful recovery. Nobody is calling this the end of the rout. But, after yesterday, investors will take it. Let’s take a closer look where investors are putting their money.

Markets update

Green screens. Led by energy and financial stocks, Asia and Europe are up solidly this morning, and the U.S. future are pointing northward as well. Yesterday, was one—another one—for the record books. Europe’s bourses. The oil markets. The Dow. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq. They all had days to forget, with the U.S. indices falling the most since the height of the financial crisis 12 years ago.

The Dow closed a mere 210 points from bear territory on Monday. Hours before that, a markets analyst sent me a note reminding reporters that yesterday marked the 11-year-anniversary of the start of the bull market. So, happy belated birthday, bulls. 🎉🎉🎉

This morning, crude, commodities, the dollar and Treasurys are all up. Gold is down. Investors are hoping the Trump Administration can deliver on a promised stimulus plan. And a growing number of analysts predict the European Central Bank will cut rates later this week and buy more assets. All that points to the start of a risk-on day.

But clouds are still on the horizon. Deutsche Bank has joined the ranks of the banks contending with coronavirus contagion in the office. Air France is slashing flights this month, as is Qantas. And, dear reader, Italy is the first country to issue a nationwide lockdown in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The Italian authorities are betting that a few weeks of restricted travel and self-containment may prove a hit to the economy in the short term, but will help its aging population and healthcare system get through the crisis.

Italians have a word for that kind of wishful thinking: magari. Translation: God willing.

Italy is the third largest eurozone economy. Northern Italy, a portion of the country that includes the industrial and financial hubs of Milan, Turin and the Veneto city of Treviso, already has been slowed to a grind with coronavirus infections raging. Putting the rest of the country in lockdown will almost certainly put the economy into recession.

Cue today’s chart.


As the chart above shows, the Italian economy in 2019 eked out growth of 0.3%. And the projection for 2020, even before the virus outbreak, was for an even worse 0.2% uptick. You can throw out that prediction. The new lockdown rules mean no travel, no public events, no museums, no evening meals at restaurant. No masses even, a tough pill for pilgrims.

This will devastate tourism and Italy’s consumer economy, two reliable engines of growth. And so economists are betting that Italy will fall further behind its euro-area peers in the coming quarters. A protracted downturn will almost certainly plunge the already weak government into further in-fighting.

Investors are getting jittery. Milan’s FTSE Mibtel fell more than 11% on Monday, and the spread between Italian and German bonds has soared in the last month, signaling investors see Italy as a bad bet for their money.

All that said, Italians so far seem to be doing a decent job of adjusting to the new reality. Not being able to meet friends for an aperitivo, or seeing family for Sunday dinner (my mother-in-law’s lasagna and roast will be sorely missed) will be a big test of the nation’s resolve. But it’s not as if we’re confined to the couch.

The sun is shining this morning. My favorite bar is still open. I can pop in for a world-beating espresso (90 euro cents) or take a walk up over the catacombs just beyond my apartment to clear my head. Niente male, as the Romans would say. Not bad.

Bernhard Warner

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Today's reads

Back to the future. Will stock markets bounce back to their highs once the coronavirus scare recedesFortune’s Shawn Tully scours the records to see what history tells us about the chances of the market making a full recovery by year-end. Hint: don't bet on it.

Don’t panic. Is this your first stock market crash? Ben Carlson, director of institutional asset management at Ritholtz Wealth Management, offers some timely tips and reassurance to young investors experiencing their first market meltdown—or those of us in denial that this bull market could possibly come to an end.

Wealth league shake-up. The world’s 500 wealthiest people lost a combined $238.5 billion in Monday’s market rout. That’s the biggest daily plunge since the Bloomberg Billionaires Index began tracking that number in October 2016. The market mayhem is reshaping the ranks of the world’s richest, Bloomberg reports. Wildcatter Harold Hamm’s fortune, for example, plunged by almost half to $2.4 billion, ejecting him from the 500-member index.

Market candy

Let’s test your market history knowledge with a quiz. Monday’s market crash felt like the end of the world, but where did it rank among the biggest one-day percentage losses in the history of the S&P500?

Answer: Monday’s 7.6% drop in the S&P 500 was only big enough to creep into the top 20 worst days in history, at number 19, according to FactSet. It was dwarfed by the 20% fall on another Black Monday—October 19, 1987. The 2,000-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average Monday was by far the largest points drop of all time but, in percentage terms, the 7.79% fall ranked as the 11th biggest in history.