Wall Street’s main indexes tumbled for the sixth straight session on Thursday with the S&P 500 on track for its fastest correction in history as the global spread of coronavirus intensified investor uncertainty about the economic impact.
If the S&P closes 10% below its record close reached on Feb. 19 this would be its fastest correction ever, taking just six trading days. The current record is nine days, occurring in early 2018, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices analyst Howard Silverblatt. The S&P was last 10.2% below its record.
All three major US indexes were set for their steepest weekly pullback since the global financial crisis, as new infections reported around the world surpassed those in mainland China.
Governments battling the epidemics from Iran to Australia shut schools, canceled big events and stocked up on medical supplies. And in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Wednesday confirmed an infection in California of unknown origin.
While the indexes pared some losses, the S&P 500 fell as much as 11.2% from its record close and the Nasdaq dropped 12.2% from its own peak. At its session low, the Dow Jones Industrials declined 12.1% from its Feb. 12 closing high.
Selling eased a bit as the benchmark S&P neared the 3,000 level as round numbers are seen as a support by technical traders, said Brian Battle, director of trading at Performance Trust Capital Partners in Chicago.
“Catching a falling knife can be done but it’s dangerous. There’s a lot of knife catching going on … People feel this might be enough. That confidence might be misplaced,” he said.
“The path of this scourge is unknown therefore you can’t know the economic impact. You can roll the dice but it’s a guess.” At 2:43PM ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 620.2 points, or 2.3%, to 26,337.39, the S&P 500 lost 69.71 points, or 2.24%, to 3,046.68 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 222.84 points, or 2.48%, to 8,757.94.
All of the 11 S&P sectors were trading lower with real estate, technology and energy sectors all losing more than 3%.
The NYSE Arca Airline index dropped 3% on fears about travel disruptions beyond China, while the Philadelphia SE Semiconductor index, comprised of China-exposed stocks, fell 2.4%.
Microsoft Corp dropped almost 5% after it warned of weakness in PC business due to a hit to its supply chain from the coronavirus, echoing similar statements from Apple Inc and HP.
Industry analysts and economists continued to sound the alarm as they assessed the fallout of the outbreak, with Goldman Sachs saying U.S. firms will generate no earnings growth in 2020.
Bucking the trend, 3M Co was up 3% after an analyst upgraded the stock, citing possible benefit from higher sales of respirator masks during the outbreak.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 4.38-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.60-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 4 new 52-week highs and 97 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 23 new highs and 451 new lows.