By The Washington Post · Thomas Heath, Taylor Telford · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, US-GLOBAL-MARKETS
The Dow Jones industrial average shot to its biggest point gain ever. The blue chips closed the day up 1,985 points, or 9.36 percent, at 23,185. The Standard & Poor's 500 and Nasdaq jumped 9.29 percent and 9.35 percent on the day. It was Wall Street's biggest rally since 2008.
The gains arrived after two days of misery, with the Dow losing 1,464 points on Wednesday and 2,352 on Thursday, its worst day since the 1987 crash. The sell-off came despite central banks around the world moved to shore up the economy against coronavirus fallout, which has battered global markets for weeks.
Investors are flattened as they head into the weekend with no end in sight. A month ago, the 11-year bull market was still reigning and the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq were resting on their record highs. But the inscrutable coronavirus struck, and within a few weeks the bull market was over and all three indexes were down 20 percent.
The S&P 500 lost 8.8 percent on the week and is down 19.9 percent in the 17 days since its all-time high. The Dow lost 10.36 percent this week and is 21 percent off its all-time high, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. For 2020, the Dow is down 18 percent, S&P 500 is down 16 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq is 12 percent in the hole.
"Investors don't know what to do," David Donabedian, chief investment officer of CIBC Private Wealth Management, wrote in commentary Friday." People are casting about so the period of extraordinary volatility is probably not over. Until we see more calm in the market, and better news on the path of COVID-19, a sustained recovery in markets is unlikely."
Friday's chaos was in line with the hyperactive trading on display all week, caused by investor anxiousness over the coronavirus. Even before the trading bell rang, S&P 500 futures had spiked 5 percent, triggering the New York Stock Exchange's "limit up" brake that's designed to temper excessive optimism and ensure orderly trading at the open.
Emergency action by the Federal Reserve to free up $1.5 trillion to smooth operations of the massive U.S. Treasury market and an Oval Office speech from President Donald Trump outlining the beginning of the White House's response to the U.S. outbreak sent investors into complete panic Wednesday, resulting in a jaw-dropping 10 percent decline for the Dow and the week's second forced halt to trading.
Wall Street's stunning meltdown over the past month has erased most of the stock market gains since Trump's surprise election in November 2016. At its Feb. 12 peak, the Dow had climbed more than 61 percent; by Thursday's close, that number had been shaved to roughly 11 percent. That number improved Friday, but is far off the 61 percent of a month ago.
Some analysts believe a recession is already underway, and that the market swoon has further - some say much further - to go.
"The coronavirus likely tips us into a recession because we were hit with a one-two punch from the virus," said Dan Niles of AlphaOne Capital Partners, a San Francisco hedge fund. "It is both demand and supply destruction, unlike 9/11 or the tech bubble bursting, which was just demand."
Asian markets were gutted Friday, with Japan's Nikkei 225 shedding more than 6 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index closed down about 1.1 percent. But European markets shared in the rebound after one of their worst days in history, boosted by intervention plans from the European Central Bank. The benchmark Stoxx 600 index finished Friday up 1 percent gain, a big rebound from its 11 percent loss Thursday.
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization designated the coronavirus a global pandemic. The disease has sickened more than 135,000 worldwide and killed nearly 5,000. And after months of edging closer, the coronavirus has taken root throughout the United States and upended daily life for the foreseeable future.
Scores of states have shuttered public schools, leaving parents to find child care or miss work. The NCAA canceled "March Madness," its premier annual showcase, disappointing millions of fans. Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League likewise placed their seasons in limbo joining the National Basketball Association, which acted one day earlier.
Musicians are postponing tours or canceling them altogether. Public tours of the White House have been canceled and the U.S. Capitol and congressional office buildings will be off-limits to tourists starting April 1. Even Mickey Mouse was sidelined when Disneyland said it would close through the end of this month.
"At this point, almost everyone in the country who is paying attention knows about the problem, knows about the risks, and knows in some detail about what to do to mitigate those risks. We are at maximum public awareness - and probably at least close to maximum public fear," Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network, wrote in commentary Friday. "Given this maximum awareness, I would suggest we may also be close to maximum economic and market impact."