May 6, 2021

US stock market halted immediately after the open

US stock market halted immediately after the open

US stock market halted immediately after the open

Stocks Drop as Grim Economic Outlook Grips Markets

Here’s what you need to know:

Stocks on Wall Street slid on Monday, after an extraordinary move by the Federal Reserve aimed at shoring up confidence instead provoked more concern.

Investors were also confronted with weak economic readings from both China and the United States, the world’s largest economies. Chinese officials reported that retail sales, manufacturing activity and investment in the first two months of the year slumped by even more than economists had expected, and a gauge of manufacturing activity in New York State fell to its lowest level since 2009.

“Unfortunately this is the new reality. This report is a harbinger of what is to come,” wrote economic analysts with the investment bank Jefferies in New York.

The S&P 500 fell 8 percent as trading began in New York and stock trading was immediately halted for 15 minutes as Wall Street’s ‘circuit breakers’ kicked in. Shares were down more than 9 percent around 1:45 p.m. in New York.

European and Asian markets tumbled, and bond prices moved sharply higher, sending yields — which move in the opposite direction — down.

Energy prices also slid sharply as investors factored in significant slowdowns in economic activity. The price for benchmark American crude dropped more than 6 percent. American gasoline futures prices plummeted more than 17 percent.

Traders resume work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange after a halt in trading on Monday.
Traders resume work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange after a halt in trading on Monday.Credit…Bryan R. Smith for The New York Times

The Fed’s emergency interest rate cut on Sunday underscored its deepening worry that the spread of the pandemic is dramatically depressing revenue for industries around the world while consumers hunker down, raising the risk of a worldwide recession. The central bank cut interest rates to near zero and said it would buy hundreds of billions of dollars in government debt, moves that are reminiscent of its actions during the financial crisis in 2008.

Those moves were engineered to ensure that credit flows freely, spurring businesses and households to borrow and spend to keep the economy growing. But markets appeared to absorb the action as the latest indication that the world had arrived at a dangerous place — a clear sign that they should dump risky assets like stocks and seek refuge in government bonds.

But the nature of this crisis — a viral outbreak that can only be contained by massive economic disruptions — is beyond the Fed’s ability to stop, analysts said.

“They can only make sure the fallout and economic impact are softened,” wrote Yousef Abbasi, global market strategist at INTL FCStone, a financial services and brokerage firm, in an email.

A major concern for stock investors now is that efforts to contain the virus in the United States will hit consumer spending, the biggest driver of economic growth. Broadway is dark. College basketball tournaments are canceled and professional sports are on indefinite hold. Conferences, concerts and St. Patrick’s Day parades have been called off or postponed.

“If the public stops spending then the economy will go into a recession, and frankly, the market’s steep losses are saying that day isn’t just coming, it is now,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, wrote in an email on Monday.

In Asia, markets also fell sharply on Monday, as fear intensified throughout the day. Australia suffered a 9.7 percent plunge in the S&P/ASX 200 stock index, leaving it about 30 percent below its high last month.

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White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow speaks to reporters about the Trump administration's response to the financial issues surrounding the coronoavirus outbreak.
White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow speaks to reporters about the Trump administration’s response to the financial issues surrounding the coronoavirus outbreak.Credit…Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said on Monday that the Trump administration is planning to roll out a plan for $800 billion in fiscal stimulus, including the legislation that the Senate is currently considering, and that it is developing additional economic relief measures.

Mr. Kudlow, speaking on the Fox Business Network, said that the Trump administration is moving ahead with a plan to suspend interest payments on student loans. He said that Mr. Trump continues to strongly favor a payroll tax holiday through the end of the year, which he thinks would help small businesses and workers.

“These measures will help mitigate the economic risks and challenges in front of us,” Mr. Kudlow said. “We have these fiscal measures out there and they’re very powerful.”

The decline of the stock market, which hit a record high less than a month ago, has wiped out many of the gains that President Trump has crowed about throughout his presidency.

Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016, along with the Republican Party’s control of Congress, triggered a surge in share prices as investors looked forward to the prospect of steep cuts to corporate tax rates and an administration stocked with industry-friendly faces.

In December 2017, Mr. Trump delivered a sweeping tax overhaul. By the following month, the S&P 500 was up more than 30 percent, and the gains kept coming for much of the year. For Mr. Trump, this was a surefire barometer of his success as president.

There was one other nasty dip along the way: In late 2018, investors grew increasingly worried about Mr. Trump’s trade war with China and the prospect that the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates.

Stocks climbed 28.9 percent last year, thanks largely to the Fed’s decision to reverse course.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 had its worst day in more than 30 years, dropping 9.5 percent. The next day, it rallied late, making up most — but not all — the ground it had just lost, after Mr. Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency.

Though stocks have now given up about half their gains since the president was elected, the S&P 500 would have to fall another 18 percent for the entire Trump Bump to be erased.

The corporate headquarters of The Boeing Company in Chicago, Illinois.
The corporate headquarters of The Boeing Company in Chicago, Illinois.Credit…Scott Olson/Getty Images

Boeing plans to direct all of its 160,000 employees worldwide who are able to to stop showing up to the company’s factories and offices starting Tuesday.

On Monday, managers at the aerospace company were told to evaluate which of their employees could effectively work from home, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company has not yet halted production, and for now, engineers and mechanics who are directly involved in building airplanes will continue to report to the factory floor. Employees working on some defense department projects will also continue showing up.

The company’s manufacturing hub is based in the Seattle area, in the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis. There have been 10 confirmed coronavirus cases among Boeing employees, including six at its plant in Everett and two in Renton.

Meanwhile, United Airlines is in talks with union leaders about reducing payroll costs, its chief executive and president jointly wrote in a letter to employees on Sunday, detailing the coronavirus outbreak’s worsening toll on the company’s bottom line.

The payroll moves being considered include furloughs, pay cuts and reducing minimum hours. United’s corporate officers will be taking a 50 percent pay cut, Oscar Munoz, the chief executive, and Scott Kirby, the president, said in the letter. Both have already said they would forgo their base salaries through June.

A workover rig and pumpjacks stand near Karnes City, Tex.
A workover rig and pumpjacks stand near Karnes City, Tex.Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Global oil prices plunged to below $30 a barrel on Monday, the lowest level in more than four years. By late morning, after some oil grades dropped by more than 10 percent, prices edged slightly higher.

Usually, the global benchmark, Brent crude, is $5 to $10 a barrel higher than the American standard, West Texas intermediate, but the Brent price has fallen faster and farther in recent days to narrow the gap between the two substantially. Energy experts say that is because of the sharp drop-off in economic activity in Europe. The prices of both Brent and West Texas have fallen by half since the start of the year.

Some analysts predict that oil prices could drop below $20 a barrel in the coming weeks.

The falling price of crude is being reflected at the gasoline pump. The U.S. average price for regular gasoline plunged 13 cents a gallon over the last week, according to the AAA motor club, to $2.25 a gallon. Eleven states now average below $2 a gallon.

A shuttered Lululemon store in New York that closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
A shuttered Lululemon store in New York that closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak.Credit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times

Major retailers from Apple to Lululemon to Patagonia have shut their stores for two weeks, as have casino hotels in Las Vegas. Local businesses are seeing a drop in businesses and living day to day.

The escalating coronavirus crisis is roiling businesses big and small. Some companies are shutting stores to help prevent the spread of the virus. Others are cutting back because their customers are staying away.

Many companies have vowed to continue to pay workers who are not coming in, and Congress is working on legislation to help businesses cover costs. But it’s only a matter of time before layoffs start registering on the wider economy.

Challenger Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm that tracks layoffs, said it had seen only a relative handful of coronavirus-related layoffs so far.

“We anticipate more to come,” said Andrew Challenger, the firm’s vice president. Many probably won’t be announced and will be hard to track, at least in real-time, he said. “But they will definitely start happening fairly quickly.”

Hanging on, some businesses are improvising. Starbucks is eliminating seating at all of its company-owned stores in the United States for at least the next two weeks to encourage social distancing. The high-end designer brand Misha Nonoo, which closed its Manhattan store, is continuing its e-commerce operation and making its stylists available over text and video chat for advice. Nonoo is also offering a $50 gift certificate for “clients who are health care workers actively battling the virus.”

The Federal Reserve pulled out a monetary policy bazooka Sunday night, cutting rates to near zero and announcing an aggressive bond-buying campaign in a bid to stabilize the economy and calm troubled markets.

But analysts said officials need to do more to backstop a critical source of funding for banks and businesses.

The market for commercial paper, short-term promissory notes that businesses use to raise cash, has come under pressure as banks and companies look to shore up their coffers to make it through the dry spell that is setting in as coronavirus leads to quarantines, shutters shopping centers and closes down restaurants.

“The commercial paper market is essentially frozen,” Mark Cabana, a rates strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research, said in an interview Sunday. “Because of coronavirus, because of the economy, everyone is just trying to raise cash, there is no one to take the other side.”

The Fed could act like an escape valve, buying up corporate paper to keep cash flowing — which it did during the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed would need to declare that the economy faces “unusual and exigent” circumstances, a determination that allows it to use its special lending abilities, and any program would require a signoff from the Treasury Department.

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