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The global markets bomb following Trump’s Oval Office coronavirus address

March 12, 2020, 10:32 AM UTC

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Good morning, everyone. At the sound of the closing bell yesterday, the bull market officially came to an end. What does that mean for us?

Long live Bull Sheet!

(I had to address that up top this morning; a few of you have asked me if we’d consider a name change. Ain’t happening.)

Let’s turn the page, and check what lies ahead today.

Markets update

We start in Europe, ground zero for Trump’s new 30-day travel ban. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 hit its lowest point since July 2016 just after the open, with airlines leading the way down. Air France-KLM, to signal just one, was off about 12% a half-hour into the trading day. Also, the yields on already-negative German bonds sank further, a sign of extreme pessimism in equities.

All eyes will be on Christine Lagarde at the ECB in a few hours’ time. We’ll see if she and her colleagues can at least keep the credit markets from seizing up. For a region that was already on the brink of recession, the discussion of any kind of growth is well off the table.

And what about the U.S.? The president’s Oval Office address yesterday evening is doing little to calm nerves. The U.S. futures are down bigly, with the Dow set to drop, as I type, about 1,200 points at the open.

Elsewhere today, crude again is tanking. The dollar is up, gold is down. And investors continue to plow their spare cash into Treasurys.

In the spirit of Bull Sheet, I have found, with the help of Bloomberg TV, a true bull this morning. Societe Generale analyst Sophie Huynh predicts the S&P 500 will rally in the second half of 2020, to finish the year at 3,500. The markets will be pretty choppy before they find a floor, however, she warns.


A Dow downer

Let’s go back to the Dow. This week, 11 years ago, the benchmark index began its impressive bull run. That’s now over.

An important refresher: there are many kinds of bear markets. They’re either cyclical, secular, or event-driven. Take your pick. They can last months or even years. What everybody wants to know—how long will this one last?—is almost impossible to predict with any certainty. The 2007-2009 bear market lasted 17 months, and the Dow fell 54% over that stretch.

On that note, let’s look at today’s chart of various Dow milestones during the now-history bull run.

Not sure if this will cheer you up, but the Dow closed yesterday at 23,553, which is still above its December, 2018 low. (Though even that low bar will be challenged at the open today). I’m old enough to remember all the bearish calls we heard back then.

And, in absolute terms, it’s still about 28% above the level where we were as Americans went to the polls in November 2016.

But the real gains of the previous bull run were in the early years. When the Dow started its long climb, it was well under 10,000. I remember those days too.


Last night, the whole family gathered around the TV for the latest update on the Italy lockdown. Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte delivered a short address, informing us that all but the most essential services in the country will be shut down. It’s the biggest disruption here to public life since World War 2.

Before we could process the news, a reporter at state broadcaster Rai patched into a live interview with a team of doctors and nurses who’d been working round-the-clock from the intensive care unit of a hospital in the most impacted region of the country. They looked exhausted. But they vowed to power on.

It was un piccolo sacrificio (a small sacrifice) one female doctor said of their marathon run to keep the sick from dying.

I know we’re focussed on the markets turmoil. But there’s a bigger crisis going on. A far bigger one. And it’s really reassuring to know there are these heroes—many of them in masks and scrubs—out there determined to do all they can to help us.


Bernhard Warner

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Today's reads

Trump trade. All the gains made by the S&P 500 since President Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017 could be wiped out within 17 trading days if current market trends continue. That could spell trouble in an election year for a president who regularly claims credit for the stock market’s stellar gains, says Erik Sherman in Fortune.

Decoding markets. Mystified by the sudden rises and plunges of the rollercoaster stock markets? Fortune’s Anne Sraders offers investors five keys to help unlock what is going on in a market transfixed by the coronavirus pandemic. She notes that while valuations are more attractive, investors are exceptionally bearish.

Danger signals. Could the coronavirus outbreak trigger a corporate debt crisis? The pandemic is prompting a reassessment of corporate credit risk, raising doubts about borrowers long seen as stable, the Financial Times reports. One in six U.S. companies does not generate enough cash flow to cover interest payments on its debt, Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, estimates.

Market candy

This date in history. Seventeen years ago today, markets were hit by a similar, if less severe, health crisis. On March 12, 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global alert for a severe form of pneumonia that originated in Asia. Its name: SARS  (severe acute respiratory syndrome). By the end of the year, WHO received reports of SARS from 29 countries and regions; 8,096 people with probable SARS resulting in 774 deaths.