Global sharemarkets tumble as virus worries rattle investors

New York: Stocks around the world tumbled on worries the worsening pandemic will mean more restrictions on businesses and drag down the economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 943 points on Wednesday (US time) as surging coronavirus cases in the US and Europe threaten more business shutdowns and pain for the economy. The S&P 500 dropped 3.5 per cent, its third-straight loss. The index has now given up 5.6 per cent so far this week and is on track for its biggest weekly fall since March, when markets were in a downward spiral. The tech-heavy Nasdaq fell by 3.7 per cent.

Wall Street is on track to post its biggest weekly fall since March.
Wall Street is on track to post its biggest weekly fall since March.Credit:AP

The selling was widespread, and roughly 95 per cent of stocks in the S&P 500 were lower. It sets up the ASX for heavy falls, with futures at 6.58am AEDT pointing to a fall of 104 points, or 1.7 per cent, at the open.

Markets were dropping even more sharply in Europe, where investors expect the French President to announce tough measures to slow the virus’ spread and German officials agreed to impose a four-week partial lockdown. The measures may not be as stringent as the shutdown orders that swept the world early this year, but the worry is they could still hit the already weakened global economy.


Policymakers in Europe “must choose between low unemployment or low COVID transmission rates. Unfortunately, they are now left dealing with the most sensitive currency of them all, people’s lives,” Stephen Innes of Axi said in a report.

In European stock markets, Germany’s DAX lost 4.2 per cent, and France’s CAC 40 dropped 3.4 per cent. The FTSE 100 in London fell 2.6 per cent.

Coronavirus counts are also climbing at a troubling rate in much of the United States, and the number of deaths and hospitalisations due to COVID-19 are on the rise. Even if the most restrictive lockdowns don’t return, investors worry that the worsening pandemic could scare away customers of businesses regardless and sap away their profits.

Crude oil also tumbled on worries that an economy already weakened by the virus would consume even less energy and allow excess supplies to build higher. Benchmark US crude dropped 6.2 per cent to $US37.09 ($52.55) per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 5.4 per cent to $US39.34 per barrel.

Instead, investors headed into the safety of US government bonds. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 0.76 per cent from 0.79 per cent late on Tuesday. It was as high as 0.87 per cent last week.

A measure of fear in the stock market touched its highest level since June, when the market suddenly tumbled amid concerns that a “second wave” of coronavirus infections had arrived. The VIX measures how much volatility investors expect from the S&P 500, and it climbed 16.3 per cent on Wednesday.

Even the continued parade of better-than-expected reports on corporate profits for the summer failed to shift the momentum.

Microsoft, the second-biggest company in the S&P 500, reported stronger profit and revenue for its latest quarter than expected. That’s typically good for a stock, but Microsoft nevertheless slumped 3.7 per cent. It gave a forecast for the current quarter that was relatively in line with Wall Street forecasts, but analysts noted some caveats in it.

UPS fell 5 per cent after also reporting better-than-expected earnings, though it said the outlook for its business is too cloudy due to the pandemic to offer any forecasts for its revenue or profits in the current quarter.

Among the few winners was General Electric, which jumped 9.6 per cent after reporting stronger profit and revenue for the latest quarter than expected. Automatic Data Processing rose 6.6 per cent after its profit report also topped expectations.

Companies broadly have not been getting as big a pop in their stock prices as they typically do after reporting healthier-than-expected profits. Analysts say that suggests good news on profits has already been built into stock prices and that the market’s focus is elsewhere.

Investors’ hopes that Congress and the White House could soon offer more big support for the economy as it struggles through the pandemic have largely faded. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have continued their talks, but investors see little chance of a deal happening before election day next week.

Economists say the economy likely needs such aid after the expiration of the last round of supplemental unemployment benefits and other stimulus approved by Washington earlier this year.

Uncertainty about the upcoming presidential election has also been pushing markets around.

The race seems be getting tighter than it was just a few weeks ago, said Jamie Cox, managing partner for Harris Financial Group. “It has markets somewhat unnerved that the prospects of a contested election are back in the mix,” he said.

Cox said he expects more calm in the markets in November after the election passes and some of the uncertainty over a new aid package fades.

“Aid is coming regardless. There’ll be no political motivation to hold it back after the election,” he said. “There’s plenty of desire to get money out to people so I think it will happen one way or another in November.”

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