Wall Street slips as New York toughens up on coronavirus spread

(Reuters) – Wall Street erased early gains to fall 1% on Friday, as the state of New York ordered all non-essential workers to stay home to curtail the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has fueled the worst monthly rout in U.S. equities in three decades.

California had earlier asked 40 million people to stay indoors as the U.S. death toll from the outbreak topped 200 people.

New York state also pleaded for more medical personnel and supplies to treat the virus cases that could overwhelm hospitals.

The Dow Jones and Nasdaq had eked out gains in early trading as global policymakers turned on all the taps to prop up financial markets after four weeks of steep declines ended a record 11-year bull run for Wall Street.

The airlines sector .SPCOMAIR rose 2% after losing more than half its value since late February.

Investors are now counting on further easing in the next few days, as the Senate mulls a $1 trillion package that would include direct financial help for Americans.

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods by any stretch,” said Lamar Villere, portfolio manager at Villere Balanced Fund.

“Most people haven’t been tested yet for coronavirus so the size of the spread is not known or understood. As that number goes up there’s the potential for more investor caution.”

Fears over the severity of the outbreak have wiped off nearly 30%, or more than $8 trillion, from the value of the benchmark S&P index since its record closing high on Feb. 19.

Markets also face “quadruple witching” on Friday, where investors unwind positions in futures and options contracts before their expiration.

A Reuters poll of economists suggested the global economy was already in recession, while analysts at U.S. stock market index operator S&P Global said volatility in financial markets across geographies and asset classes was at record highs.

AT&T Inc (T.N) tumbled 6.4% as the wireless carrier warned the outbreak might have a material impact on financial results and canceled a $4 billion share repurchase agreement.

At 12:22 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 237.65 points, or 1.18%, at 19,849.54, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 41.80 points, or 1.73%, at 2,367.59. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 76.97 points, or 1.08%, at 7,073.61.

Nine of the 11 major S&P sectors were trading lower, with communications .SPLRCL and utilities .SPLRCU stocks leading the declines.

The energy sector .SPNY still rose 0.2%, rebounding from its lowest levels in nearly two decades, even as oil prices weakened. [O/R]

Advancing issues almost matched decliners 1-to-1 on the NYSE and the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded no new 52-week high and 40 new lows, while the Nasdaq logged three new highs and 95 new lows.

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