Live Stock Market Tracker During Coronavirus Pandemic

Stocks on Wall Street fell sharply on Wednesday, following a slump in global markets, as investors face new projections of the potential scale and economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic.

The S&P 500 fell nearly 4 percent in early trading, extending its losses from March — with a 12.5 percent drop — the worst month for stocks since 2008.

Though the panic-driven, stomach-churning market volatility of recent weeks had subsided in recent days, numerous signs point to dire prospects for the world economy as the pandemic continues its spread. President Trump said at a news conference on Tuesday that the United States would face a “very, very painful two weeks.” U.S. government scientists projected that the outbreak could kill up to 240,000 people in the country. And on Wednesday, the United Nations warned of “enhanced instability, enhanced unrest and enhanced conflict.”

And economic readings continue to worsen. On Wednesday, a monthly measure of factory activity in Europe collapsed to its lowest level since at least 2012, while data showed Japan’s factory activity slowed to its lowest rate in a decade. Investors will get more data on the job market in the United States later this week, with the government reporting weekly jobless claims on Thursday and the unemployment rate on Friday.

Bear in mind, too, that analysts are a notoriously over-optimistic bunch. Forward-looking earnings estimates routinely drift lower as companies drop hints about trading conditions. The grim news from firms dealing with coronavirus shutdowns does not suggest that this pattern will be broken in the coming months.

“This is already shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years,” he said. “Everything depends on how long it lasts, but if this goes on for a long time, it’s certainly going to be the mother of all financial crises.”

The fallout is hitting prominent start-ups as well. Airbnb, the home rental start-up valued at $31 billion, has stopped hiring and has suspended $800 million of marketing. Bird, an electric scooter start-up, laid off 30 percent of its staff last week, while Everlane, an apparel company, cut or furloughed hundreds of workers.

There were signs that the boom times were shaky even before the coronavirus brought wide swaths of the U.S. economy to a halt. But the pain is now deeper and most likely just beginning, especially as investors, already bruised by a string of disappointing initial public offerings last year, become even more cautious.

“If any one of these planes don’t take off,” he said, “that’s going to be an issue.”

China has become a major part of the solution. Already a giant in mask manufacturing, it has ramped up production to nearly 12 times its earlier level. The huge mobilization effort has involved redesigning freight train routes and sending large numbers of workers across the country in sealed buses.

The Chinese government has encouraged global deals, but buying and selling masks is no easy feat. Traders, some just weeks into their new but unstable careers, have to navigate confusion, fraud attempts, byzantine customs laws and other barriers.

Airline executives and lobbyists have protested that it would be expensive and time-consuming for them to start collecting basic information like email addresses and phone numbers for all passengers.

  • Banks in Britain, including Barclays, HSBC and RBS, said they would not pay dividends or carry out share buybacks this year. The supervisory arm of the Bank of England, which had requested the move, also encouraged the banks not to award cash bonuses to senior staff members this year. The European Central Bank has issued a similar request to eurozone banks.

  • Some workers at Whole Foods held a sickout on Tuesday seeking to pressure the company to provide paid leave for those who choose to quarantine and to double the pay of those who work during the pandemic. There appeared to be at least dozens who called in sick, based on conversations among organizers in a messaging app that they allowed journalists to join. The company said that it had raised pay $2 per hour through the end of April and was providing two weeks of paid sick leave for workers.

Reporting was contributed by Ben Dooley, Peter S. Goodman, Niraj Chokshi, Li Yuan, Keith Bradsher, Noam Scheiber, Amie Tsang, Jason Karaian, Carlos Tejada, Stanley Reed, Kevin Granville and Daniel Victor.

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