Dow falls 600 points to start second quarter as virus anxiety grows

(Reuters) – The Dow Jones fell 600 points on Wednesday as investors fled to safe-haven assets after new orders for U.S.-made goods plunged to an 11-year low and the White House issued a dire warning on the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic.

The blue-chip Dow and the S&P 500 were set to extend losses entering into the second quarter, as efforts to contain the outbreak resulted in deserted shopping streets, massive staff furloughs and a halt in business activity.

Meanwhile, the collapse in oil prices brought about its first major casualty, with shale producer Whiting Petroleum (WLL.N) filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Its shares nearly halved in value.

Companies on the benchmark index have lost about $6.3 trillion in market value so far this year, even as major governments and central banks have announced trillions of dollars in measures to thwart a global recession.

Goldman Sachs now expects sequential real U.S. GDP to plummet 34% in the second quarter on an annualized basis.

“People are concerned with the economic reality of both the depth as well as the duration of what this episode will be for the global economy,” said Eric Freedman, chief investment officer at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in North Carolina.

“There is room for further downside and we are still advocating for caution.”

The rush to safer assets pushed longer-term yields on U.S. Treasuries lower, putting pressure on interest-sensitive bank stocks .SPXBK, which fell 6.4%. The financials sector was the biggest drag on the S&P 500. [US/]

Consumer staples .SPLRCS stocks, utilities .SPLRCU and real estate .SPLRCR, which are considered stable during times of extreme volatility, also fell between 1% and 7%.

With the quarterly reporting season set to begin in two weeks, S&P 500 companies are expected to enter an earnings recession in 2020, falling 3.7% in the first quarter and 9.6% in the second.

However, some analysts expressed optimism.

“This will take some time to overcome, but markets will rise in the second quarter on expectations of economic data sharply improving in the second half of 2020,” said Barry Bannister, head of institutional equity strategy at Stifel Financial in Baltimore.

At 11:36 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 575.69 points, or 2.63%, at 21,341.47, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 76.78 points, or 2.97%, at 2,507.81 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 180.05 points, or 2.34%, at 7,520.05.

The energy sector .SPNY shed another 3.6%, with experts now saying oil prices could touch single digits, exacerbated by a share tussle among top producers as the world runs out of storage space.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 7.88-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 4.78-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded one new 52-week high and nine new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded six new highs and 41 new lows.

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