Panic grips financial markets after U.S. travel curbs, ECB move
Updated 09:27, 13-Mar-2020

Panic hit world financial markets on Thursday after stimulus efforts from the European Central Bank failed to calm investors alarmed by U.S. moves to restrict travel from Europe because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

An MSCI global gauge of stocks posted its largest daily percentage drop on record, as did European shares . Wall Street's Dow industrials index recorded its largest daily decline since the Black Monday crash of October 1987.

The New York Federal Reserve pumped more liquidity to banks, briefly reversing some of the day's losses. It was the third substantial increase in repo support announced by the U.S. central bank this week, a sign the Fed is taking drastic steps to inject more liquidity into the banking system as markets show signs of stress.

The U.S. dollar responded atypically, rising against numerous currencies and gold in yet another sign of financial market stress. Oil prices sank further, while traditional safe-haven assets like gold and the Japanese yen lost value against the dollar.

Trading was halted for 15 minutes shortly after the open in New York after the benchmark S&P 500 stock index tumbled more than seven percent. It ended down 9.5 percent.

In a televised address late on Wednesday that included support measures for the economy, U.S. President Donald Trump announced restrictions on travel from Europe to the United States, shocking investors and travelers.

Traders were disappointed after hoping to see broader measures to fight the spread of the virus and blunt its expected blow to economic growth.

"The economy is going to grind to a halt in the next month and the recession risk is real now," said Zhiwei Ren, managing director at Penn Mutual Asset Management in Horsham, Pennsylvania.

Trump said the United States would suspend all travel from Europe, except Britain and Ireland, for 30 days starting on Friday. He later said trade would not be affected by the restrictions.

Worries spread far beyond stocks to companies' lines of credit and their ability to finance business activity in the short term.

Fear of the unknown "is gripping markets and it's more impactful in the credit markets at the moment; liquidity has effectively evaporated," said John McClain, a portfolio manager at Diamond Hill Capital in Columbus, Ohio. "People are looking ahead and saying 'What's this world going to feel like when we're all working at home?'"

The European Central Bank approved fresh stimulus measures and temporarily dropped banks' capital requirements to help the euro zone cope with the shock of the pandemic, but kept interest rates on hold, disappointing markets.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 2,352.6 points, or 9.99 percent, to 21,200.62, the S&P 500 lost 260.74 points, or 9.51 percent, to 2,480.64 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 750.25 points, or 9.43 percent, to 7,201.80.

The pan-European index lost 11.48 percent and emerging market stocks lost 6.71 percent.

Japan's Nikkei futures lost 10.88 percent.

MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe shed 9.51 percent and was down more than 20 percent from its 52-week peak. The index has lost more than 26 percent over the last 20 sessions.

The VIX volatility index - Wall Street's "fear gauge" - and an equivalent measure of volatility for the Euro Stoxx 50 .V2TX hit their highest since the 2008 financial crisis.

Into the unknown 

Fed fund rate futures are now pricing in a 1.0 percentage point cut, rather than 0.75, at a policy review next week. 

The euro weakened after the ECB stimulus announcement.

Demand for dollars via the currency derivative markets surged to the highest levels in years in a sign that coronavirus-induced economic stress is starting to manifest itself in a broad scramble for funding in dollars.

"Dollar liquidity is king in times of crisis and that is what the blow-out in swap spreads is telling us," said Kenneth Broux, a currency strategist at Societe Generale in London.

He said this could mark a move into the next sell-off stage, which could mean a three-week-long worldwide rout in shares and riskier bonds giving way to a rush for dollars.

The dollar index rose 0.792 percent, with the euro up 0.08 percent to 1.1192 U.S. dollars.

The Japanese yen weakened 0.09 percent versus the greenback at 104.76 per dollar, while Sterling was last trading at 1.2585 U.S. dollars, up by 0.11 percent on the day.

The Brazilian real, Colombian peso and Mexican peso all hit historic lows versus the greenback.

Bitcoin plunged by 28.1 percent amid wild volatility in cryptocurrency markets.

Oil prices were also hit, compounded by an intensifying price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, on top of fears of a sharp slowdown in the global economy.

U.S. crude fell by 6.03 percent to 30.99 U.S. dollars per barrel and Brent was last at 32.84 U.S. dollars, down by 8.24 percent on the day.

Spot gold dropped by 3.5 percent to 1,576.79 U.S. dollars an ounce. Palladium dropped by 20.6 percent to 1,831.09 U.S. an ounce.

Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes  rose 3/32 in price to yield 0.8121 percent, from 0.822 percent late on Wednesday.

(Cover: The Wall Street sign is pictured at the New York Stock exchange in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 9, 2020. /Reuters)

Source(s): Reuters