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This is no temporary market decline

March 10, 2020, 10:01 AM UTC

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Good morning.

Well, it had to happen, folks. The bull market is over. Not officially… yet. Yesterday’s market drop was the biggest since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008. But it left the S&P 500 down 19% from its peak—just shy of the 20% drop used to define a bear market. Don’t worry, though; we will get there.

Could the market’s decline be temporary? A brief fear-and-algorithm-driven bout of investor insanity? I don’t think so. The causes are real. The steadily increasing numbers of coronavirus infections suggest we are heading into pandemic territory in the U.S. and elsewhere, and the result will be increasingly widespread business closings and travel shutdowns. Meanwhile, the breakdown between Saudi Arabia and Russia has eliminated the any hope of a recovery in oil prices, and likely will lead to bankruptcies in the shale oil business. Oil stocks topped the worst performers in the S&P 500 yesterday, and even giants Exxon and Chevron were both down about 10%.

Optimists are hoping for a short-lived downturn, with the markets recovering before the end of the year. Is that likely? Well, no…as Fortune’s Shawn Tully documents here.

Is a recession inevitable? Well, maybe not inevitable…as those of us who lived through the 1987 market crash know. (And by the way, I called that one right…as you can read here.) But this is different than that. It’s driven by fundamentals that seem very likely to lead to a significant downturn in economic activity.

What can you do about? Refinance! Rates have hit an all-time low, and mortgage refinance applications are up 224% from a year earlier. Thirty-year fixed rate loans have fallen to 3.29%; 15-year fixed rate loans can be had for 2.79%.

As for the markets this morning, a small recovery has been rolling through Asia (Nikkei 225 up 0.9%, Shanghai Composite up 1.8%) and Europe (Stoxx 600 up 4%), and futures suggest the U.S. will follow suit.

More news below.

Alan Murray


Italian lockdown

Italy's coronavirus lockdown has been extended from Lombardy to the entire country of around 60 million people—that means no domestic or international travel, no big public gatherings or sporting events, and no open cinemas or schools or universities. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte: "We have no time to adapt, numbers tell us we have a spike in infections, people in intensive care and deaths…Our habits must change right now." What's more, Italian lenders have suspended all mortgage payments. BBC

Trump measures

President Trump will this afternoon seek to calm nerves with "very major" proposals for easing coronavirus-induced economic pain. The measures may include a payroll tax cut, help for those earning hourly wages, and loans for small businesses. Wall Street Journal

Ikea and Alibaba

Ikea's flat-pack furniture has been made available on a third-party website through an official partnership for the first time. The lucky partner is Alibaba, which Ikea hopes will help it reach more Chinese consumers. Ikea is calling this a test—it's been considering such a move for a couple years. RTÉ

Infineon and Cypress

Infineon's share price popped by over 6% after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) found no issues with its proposed $10 billion takeover of Cypress Semiconductor. Infineon took a knock last week after reports suggested CFIUS would advise President Trump to block the deal. Reuters


Oil woes

Yesterday's sudden drop in the oil price (which was only slightly ameliorated today) immediately caused players at the heart of the U.S. shale boom to announce cuts in production and activity. There are also fears of layoffs and even bankruptcies in the sector, with ripple effects predicted for the banking industry. Fortune

Saudi gamble

Saudi Arabia's decision to launch an oil price war could threaten the kingdom's modernization drive, with a drop in petrodollar income hitting spending, infrastructural projects and the Saudi deficit. One Saudi analyst told the Financial Times: "There’s going to be a heavy price for Saudi Arabia and other oil producers. They couldn’t have picked a worse time." FT

Agricultural drones

Will the coronavirus outbreak stimulate a stronger move to automation? That's the effect that seems to be occurring in Chinese agriculture, where drone-makers are seeing an increase in demand—though subsidies from central government might be playing a part there. CNBC

Rich men

Jack Ma, who only lost $1.1 billion in yesterday's stock-market bloodbath, is now officially Asia's richest person—Reliance chair Mukesh Ambani ceded the title after losing $5.8 billion. Other big losers: LVMH chief Bernard Arnault ($4.4 billion); Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ($5.6 billion); and the sagacious Warren Buffett ($5.3 billion). Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.