Markets tumble as scale of stimulus programs numbs investors

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Global equities tumbled anew on Wednesday, with bond and gold prices also falling in an unusual tandem, as markets grappled with the sheer scale of government programs and handouts aimed at softening the economic shockwave from the coronavirus.

The Trump administration asked Congress to approve $500 billion in cash payments to taxpayers in two rounds starting April 6 and $50 billion in secured loans to U.S. airlines to address the outbreak’s impact, according to a document seen by Reuters.

Traders are struggling to sort out the various moves by global central banks and governments to shore up economies bracing for what looms as a short but deep global recession from a pandemic still on the rise.

Investors dumped precious metals and other safe-havens in favor of cash after the additional U.S. stimulus measures announced Tuesday failed to calm markets hit by mounting fears over the economic downside from the coronavirus.

Estimates for the duration of the damage extend out into the summer. Japan already is in a recession, a downturn is imminent in Europe and a U.S. recession will start in the second quarter, a report from IHS Markit said.

The coronavirus has raised the prospect of the steepest ever annual fall in oil demand, Goldman Sachs said. U.S. crude futures plummeted to an 18-year low and Brent hit more than 16-year low as travel and social lockdowns slammed demand.

Certain correlations are breaking down in the markets as typical safe-haven assets sell off, said Yousef Abbasi, global market strategist at INTL FCStone Financial Inc in New York.

“During a dramatic risk-off situation you would expect to see at least a little bit of a bid in bonds or maybe in gold, but we’re seeing the opposite,” Abbasi said.

“Despite the continued pain in equities, the safe-haven asset correlation seems to be now trading with risk assets, rather than the inverse to them,” he said.

Bond prices tumbled, instead of rising, as investors sold to raise cash. Yields on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield rose to 1.257%, after earlier hitting 1.226%.

In Europe, the gap between German and other euro zone bond yields widened, with investors demanding higher premiums to hold anything but German debt.

Ten-year French government bonds yielded 69 basis points more than their German counterparts, the most since April 2017.The gap between 10-year German and Dutch debt grew as wide as 37basis points, the most since July 2015.

Gold dropped 2%, falling below $1,500 an ounce.

“Gold continues to suffer from risk-off panics in the market, trading back below $1,500 level,” said Tai Wong, head of base and precious metals derivatives trading at BMO.

“Liquidity here, as in most markets, is deeply compromised and we expect to see continuing volatility, mood-driven swings,” Wong said.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 6.26% and emerging market stocks lost 5.34%. The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 3.99%.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1,660.63 points, or 7.82%, to 19,576.75. The S&P 500 lost 177.29 points, or 7.01%, to 2,351.9 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 462.37 points, or 6.3%, to 6,872.41.

Boeing Co fell another -22.1% as the planemaker called for a $60 billion bailout for U.S. aerospace manufacturers facing the fallout of an extended collapse in global travel.

European bourses tumbled, with indexes in London, Frankfurt and Paris plunged from 4% to 5%.

In Asia, the MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dropped 4% to lows last seen in summer 2016, led by a 6.4% fall in Australia. Japan’s Nikkei dipped 1.7%.

The economic slowdown will be tough on travel-related industries, gaming and brick and mortar retail, said Scott Crowe, chief investment strategist at real estate-focused CenterSquare Investment Management in Philadelphia.

U.S. clothing retailer Gap Inc and luxury department store operator Neiman Marcus will close their stores for two weeks, joining other retailers in a vast effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“It’s a little less obvious whether the government will start bailing out retailers. The problem is that a lot of these retailers were already teetering on a knife edge coming into this,” Crowe said. “There are very few industries right now that can sustain to a four- to eight-week shutdown.”

U.S. crude hit its lowest since March 2002, falling even after weekly government data was less bearish than expected. The draw on gasoline stockpiles and smaller-than-expected build in crude inventories showed that people were preparing ahead of business and school closings, analysts said.

U.S. crude fell 18.18% to $22.05 per barrel.

(Graphic: Market selloff speed, severity eclipses previous dislocations, here)

“We are in the midst of the mayhem really, and I think there is still a risk that the increasing number of infections will keep markets on their toes,” said Hans Peterson, global head of asset allocation at SEB investment management.

“It is hard to know how deep the recession will be, and as long as we have that situation it is hard to lift sentiment.”

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