By The Washington Post · Taylor Telford · BUSINESS, US-GLOBAL-MARKETS
The tech-heavy Nasdaq closed down 1.79 percent on Friday, with tech stocks like Apple Inc., Amazon and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, hit particularly hard. Dow Jones industrial average closed down 0.78 percent in the red and at one point was down more than 300 points, but regained some of its losses. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slid 1.2 percent.
Friday's fall slated the major averages for their first weekly losses since the start of the month.
Investor fears were reflected in gold's extended rally, which powered the safe-haven nearly 1.7 percent to a seven-year-high of $1,648. Meanwhile, the yield on the 30-year Treasury fell to an all-time low, suggesting investors' confidence in the economy has been shaken. Oil prices also fell nearly 1 percent off concerns that the outbreak could dampen crude demand.
"While the number of new cases of coronavirus continues to slow in China, the spread outside the country is escalating and it seems the market is waking up to the impact on both individual companies and the wider economy," Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, wrote in commentary Friday. "Profit warnings linked to the health crisis, as companies are either hit by slowing consumer demand in China or impact on their supply chain, are starting to trickle out with the impact on iPhone sales revealed by Apple earlier this week the most high profile of these."
The virus has killed more than 2,000 people worldwide and sickened more than 75,000, and the fallout has rippled around the globe through supply chain disruptions, cratering tourism and travel, and widespread store closures that are challenging global firms and stalling growth at a time when it was expected to rebound thanks to the U.S.-China trade truce. Experts now predict the global economy will shrink this quarter for the first time since 2009.
Fresh Purchasing Managers index data revealed that U.S. economic output shrank for the first time since October 2013 in January, the contraction driven by a severe drop-off in the services sector. Services business activity fell to 49.4 in February, down from 53.4 in January, the report showed. Readings under 50 indicate a contraction, while over 50 indicates growth.
"The deterioration in was in part linked to the coronavirus outbreak, manifesting itself in weakened demand across sectors such as travel and tourism, as well as via falling exports and supply chain disruptions," Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, said in the report. "However, companies also reported increased caution in respect to spending due to worries about a wider economic slowdown and uncertainty ahead of the presidential election later this year."
The coronavirus has slammed China's economy, diminishing its oil consumption and disrupting the careful symmetry between global supply and demand. U.S. benchmark crude and Brent crude were trading at around $53 and $58 per barrel, respectively, far lower than what oil companies and major supplier nations prefer. BP has warned that the virus could reduce global oil demand by as much as 40 percent this year.
Appearing on CNBC Friday morning, President Trump's chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that even as the coronavirus paralyzes the Chinese economy, the United States is not going to "decouple" from China. From an economic standpoint, "we should be very calm about the U.S. side of the story" Kudlow said, even as so many U.S. companies rely on deeply-embedded Chinese supply chains.
Kudlow also dismissed fears about the 30-year Treasury note performance, suggesting it was a reflection of investor anxiety about the virus, rather than the fundamentals of the economy.
"I think you've got a lot of big mood swings here," Kudlow said.