Wall Street Starts Second Quarter With a Plunge: Live Updates

Stocks drop as investors brace for more damage to come.

Wall Street is back in selling mode.

Faced with grim new projections of the potential scale and economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic, investors dumped stocks on Wednesday. The S&P 500 fell more than 4 percent, bringing its decline over two days to 6 percent.

The drop, which followed a sell-off in Europe and Asia, came after President Trump said at a news conference on Tuesday that the United States would face a “very, very painful two weeks.” U.S. government scientists projected that the outbreak could kill up to 240,000 people in the country. On Wednesday, the United Nations warned of “enhanced instability, enhanced unrest and enhanced conflict.”

The economic readings continue to worsen as well. On Wednesday, surveys of manufacturing and factory activity in the United States, Europe and Japan showed activity slowing to levels not seen in a decade or more. In the United States, factory orders and employment measures fell to their lowest since 2009, the Institute for Supply Management said.

Fears are growing that the global downturn could be far more punishing and long lasting than initially feared — potentially enduring into next year, and even beyond — as governments intensify restrictions on business to halt the spread of the pandemic, and fear of the virus impedes consumer-led economic growth.

Cruise operator Carnival was the worst performing stock in the S&P 500, with a decline of 31 percent, while rival Royal Caribbean fell nearly 20 percent.

Oil industry leaders will meet with Trump.

Top oil company executives will meet with President Trump on Friday to discuss possible government steps to take pressure off the industry at a time of slumping energy demand, according to a person close to company leaders.

The executives are not entirely united, with some favoring tariffs on imported oil and others favoring relief from regulations and royalties on federal lands.

The plan for the meeting was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

The meeting comes after Saudi Arabia sought to limit production as the coronavirus outbreak weighed on global markets, but failed to get Russia to agree. As a result, both countries are pumping more oil to gain market share from U.S. producers, driving prices to two-decade lows. West Texas intermediate crude, the American benchmark, is trading barely above $20 a barrel.

Warren pressures delivery companies over workers.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called on food delivery start-ups to reclassify the workers who deliver their orders as employees rather than independent contractors, a move that would make the workers eligible for health care and other benefits.

In letters sent on Wednesday to the chief executives of DoorDash, Uber Eats, Instacart and GrubHub, Ms. Warren said the companies had misclassified their workers for years but the coronavirus pandemic increased the urgency with which they must act. California and Massachusetts have passed legislation that requires the so-called gig economy companies to reclassify their workers but the companies have resisted doing so.

“The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated how much your company is completely reliant on these workers to provide essential services to the public,” Ms. Warren wrote. “Delivery workers are experiencing serious health and economic vulnerabilities as a result of their jobs, and your company is failing to provide appropriate and necessary protections.”

Instacart and DoorDash spokespeople said that their companies had offered quarantine pay to delivery workers and wanted to work with Ms. Warren to protect workers. Uber said Congress should pass new laws to protect the gig economy model. A GrubHub representative said the company was also offering quarantine pay and sanitation supplies.

Automakers report a sharp drop in sales.

Industry forecasters expect to produce a total for March after all automakers have reported. ALG, a company that tracks trends in auto sales, estimated that industrywide March sales fell 37 percent from a year ago.

The drop in sales is the second big blow to automakers. Most of the industry has shut down factories across North America to prevent the spread of the virus among workers.

“The market right now is really shellshocked,” said Brian Benstock, general manager of Paragon Honda in Queens. He said his service department is “on limp mode” and his sales area is dark.

On March 1, the agency screened about 99 percent of the 2.3 million passengers, airline crew members and airport workers who filtered past its checkpoints on the same day last year. But by Tuesday, the end of the month, only about 146,000 people streamed past the checkpoints, or about 7 percent of the 2 million people screened last year.

“This is already shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years,” he said. “Everything depends on how long it lasts, but if this goes on for a long time, it’s certainly going to be the mother of all financial crises.”

The U.S. government readies loans for midsize companies.

The fallout is hitting prominent start-ups as well. Airbnb, the home rental start-up valued at $31 billion, has stopped hiring and has suspended $800 million of marketing. Bird, an electric scooter start-up, laid off 30 percent of its staff last week, while Everlane, an apparel company, cut or furloughed hundreds of workers.

There were signs that the boom times were shaky even before the coronavirus brought wide swaths of the U.S. economy to a halt. But the pain is now deeper and most likely just beginning, especially as investors, already bruised by a string of disappointing initial public offerings last year, become even more cautious.

What else is going on:

  • Whiting Petroleum, an oil company focused on shale projects in North Dakota and Colorado, said it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing “the severe downturn in oil and gas prices driven by uncertainty around the duration of the Saudi/Russia oil price war and the Covid-19 pandemic.” Whiting, which has roughly $1 billion of debt coming due over the next year, said it had reached an agreement in principle with some creditors on a comprehensive restructuring.

  • Investors pulled more than $83 billion out of equity and debt investments in emerging markets, new data from the Institute of International Finance shows. “This record-breaking outflow episode is significantly larger than the one seen during the global financial crisis,” economists at IIF wrote in a note on Wednesday.

  • Banks in Britain, including Barclays, HSBC and RBS, said they would not pay dividends or carry out share buybacks this year. The supervisory arm of the Bank of England, which had requested the move, also encouraged the banks not to award cash bonuses to senior staff members this year. The European Central Bank has issued a similar request to eurozone banks.

Reporting was contributed by Clifford Krauss, Erin Griffith, Alan Rappeport, Neal E. Boudette, Kate Conger, Ben Dooley, Peter S. Goodman, Niraj Chokshi, Li Yuan, Keith Bradsher, Noam Scheiber, Amie Tsang, Jason Karaian, Carlos Tejada, Stanley Reed, Quoctrung Bui, Katie Robertson, Mohammed Hadi, Kevin Granville and Daniel Victor.

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