The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped more than 1,000 points Monday amid a broad global markets sell-off as a surge in virus cases outside China sent investors running for safer financial instruments.
The losses wiped out all of the gains for the year of the Dow and the benchmark S&P 500, which was on track for its worst day in more than two years.
More than 79,000 people worldwide have been infected by the new coronavirus. China, where the virus originated, still has the majority of cases and deaths. The rapid spread to other countries is raising anxiety about the threat the outbreak poses to the global economy.
The plummet comes on the same day that China announced tax cuts and other measures to help companies recover from the virus-induced slowdown. At a news conference, Chinese finance and planning officials expressed confidence the ruling Communist Party’s growth targets can be achieved this year despite prevention steps that shut down much of the world's second-largest economy last month.
President Xi Jinping publicly promised over the past week to ensure farming and other industries recover quickly. Still, forecasters say it is likely to be at least mid-March before automakers and other companies return to full production. The government is looking at "targeted tax reduction," interest rate cuts, and payments to poor and virus-hit areas, said an assistant finance minister, Ou Wenhan.
South Korea is now on its highest alert for infectious diseases after cases there spiked. Italy reported a sharp rise in cases and a dozen towns in the northern, more industrial part of that country are under quarantine. The nation now has the biggest outbreak in Europe, prompting officials to cancel Venice's famed Carnival, along with soccer matches and other public gatherings.
There are also more cases of the virus being reported in the Middle East as it spreads to Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait, among others.
The Dow fell 1,031 points, or 3.5%, to 27,961 at closing. The S&P 500 index skidded 110.43 points, or 3.6%, to 3,226. The Nasdaq dropped 355 points, or 3.7%, to 9,221.
Germany's DAX slid 4% and Italy's benchmark index dropped 5.4%. South Korea's Kospi shed 3.9% and markets in Asia fell broadly.
Investors looking for safe harbors bid up prices for U.S. government bonds and gold. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell sharply, to 1.38% from 1.47% late Friday. Gold prices jumped 1.7%.
"Stock markets around the world are beginning to price in what bond markets have been telling us for weeks – that global growth is likely to be impacted in a meaningful way due to fears of the coronavirus," said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance.
The viral outbreak threatens to crimp global economic growth and hurt profits and revenue for a wide range of businesses.
Companies from technology giant Apple to athletic gear maker Nike have already warned about a hit to their bottom lines. Airlines and other companies that depend on travelers are facing pain from cancelled plans and shuttered locations.
Crude oil prices plunged 6.7%. Aside from air travel, the virus poses an economic threat to global shipping.
Technology companies were among the worst hit by the sell-off. Apple, which depends on China for a lot of business, slid 3.4%.
Microsoft slumped 2.6%. Banks were also big losers. JPMorgan Chase fell 2.1% and Bank of America fell 4.4%.
Airlines and cruise ship operators also slumped. American Airlines slid 8.2%, Delta Air Lines dropped 5.8%, Carnival skidded 7.9%, and Royal Caribbean Cruises gave up 7.7%.
Utilities and real estate companies held up better than most sectors. Investors tend to favor those industries, which carry high dividends and hold up relatively well during periods of turmoil, when they're feeling fearful.
Gilead Sciences rose 3.9% and was among the few bright spots. The biotechnology company is testing a potential drug to treat the new coronavirus. Bleach-maker Clorox was also a standout, rising 1.7%.
The sell-off is hitting the market as companies near the finish of what has been a surprisingly good round of earnings. About 87% of companies in the S&P 500 have reported financial results and profits are expected to grow by more than a half-percentage point when all the reports are in, according to FactSet.
In the eyes of some analysts, Monday's tank job for stocks means they're just catching up to the bond market, where fear of a global economic slowdown has been evident for months.
U.S. government bonds are seen as some of the safest possible investments, and investors have been piling into them throughout 2020, even as stocks overcame stumbles to set more record highs. A bond's yield falls when its price rises, and the 10-year Treasury has been in such demand that its yield has plunged to 1.38% from roughly 1.90% at the start of the year.
The 10-year yield on Monday touched its lowest point in three years, falling from 1.47% late Friday, and it was near its intraday record low of 1.325% set in July 2016, according to Tradeweb. The 30-year Treasury yield fell further after setting its own record low, down to 1.84% from 1.92% late Friday.
Traders are increasingly certain that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates at least once in 2020 to help prop up the economy.
They're pricing in a nearly 95% probability of a cut this year, according to CME Group. A month ago, they saw only a 68% probability.
Of course, some analysts say stocks have been rising in recent weeks precisely because of the drop in yields. Bonds are offering less in interest after the Federal Reserve lowered rates three times last year – the first such cuts in more than a decade – and amid low inflation. When bonds are paying such meager amounts, many investors say there's little real competition other than stocks for their money.
The view has become so hardened that "There Is No Alternative," or TINA, has become a popular acronym on Wall Street. Even with Monday's sharp drops, the S&P 500 is still within 4.2% of its record set earlier this month.
This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP Business Writer Stan Choe contributed.