The Dow posts its biggest one-day point loss ever as nothing can stem the coronavirus panic on Wall Street

March 16, 2020, 9:28 PM UTC

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Another day, another massive freefall.

The S&P 500 fell 324.89 (12.0%); the Dow Industrials was down 2,997.10 (12.9%); the Nasdaq lost 970.28 (12.3%) and the Russell 2000 was off 172.72 (14.3%). The Dow’s drop represented the largest one-day point loss ever.

There was also a twist today. “This market has moved beyond coronavirus and into credit crisis,” said Frances Donald, managing director, chief economist, and head of macro strategy at Manulife Investment Management.

It comes down to the Federal Reserve’s Sunday surprise, starting with a drop to a 0% federal funds rate that it will maintain “until the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals.”

Additionally, the Fed will effectively resurrect quantitative easing, purchasing $500 billion in Treasurys and $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities, and expand its repo operations, in which it purchases Treasurys on an overnight or short-term basis to provide more liquidity to markets.

Some felt the efforts were more a miss than a hit. “The Fed hoped that the market would take solace,” Allen Sukholitsky, founder and chief macro strategist at Xallarap Advisory, wrote in a note to Fortune. “Instead, the market became suspicious.”

“This makes it look like the Fed is panicking,” Sean O’Hara, president of Pacer ETF Distributors at Pacer Financial, agreed in a note to Fortune. “What normally would look like something reassuring, is now looking like we all should be much more worried than we were.”

Others disagreed about the intent.

“The Fed’s moves were not designed to be a panacea for the economy or financial markets,” Greg McBride, senior vice president & chief financial analyst at Bankrate, noted to Fortune. “Instead, they are acting aggressively to prevent further tightening of credit markets and have cut interest rates to near zero to set the stage for low cost borrowing once the virus has passed.”

What has worried the Fed was contracting liquidity and lowered ability to sell bonds in the Treasury bond market, a critical part of the global economic system. “What the Fed has been doing … [is] making sure liquidity continues and that markets can function properly,” said Collin Martin, fixed income strategist of the Schwab Center for Financial Research.

Others were worried that there’s no more ammunition. “The Fed has nothing more to do now and there’s nowhere to go,” said Melissa Brown, global director of applied research at financial intelligence service Qontigo.”

Conditions are “moving away from garden variety recession to a financial crisis,” Donald said. The worry is whether there is enough liquidity to keep global financial systems working they way they should.

For equity markets, the question is what investors will do now. And what governments will implement in terms of fiscal stimulus.

“No policymaker can help us avoid the recession that is coming,” Donald said. “But policies can help us come out faster and stronger if they’re targeted in time.”

The good news, such as can be found, is that the bottom, while not quite here, seems on its way, and that could be a sign for investors to buy.

“When the market is so bad and you believe it’s only going to get worse and panic is running everywhere—when panic has peaked, that is a good time,” Donald said.

However, “I don’t think panic has peaked,” she added.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

How to prepare your personal finances for a coronavirus recession
—Why the world’s stock markets kept going quiet last week
—The Fed made a bold move to calm shaky markets. But is it enough?
—Why return CEOs are usually bad news for a company’s stock
—Dormant PayPal Credit accounts are coming back to hurt credit scores

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