The selling erased some of the market’s gains after a strong three-day rally that has the major stock indexes on track for their first weekly gain in three weeks. Even after the winning streak this week the market is down 25% from the peak it reached a month ago.
The S&P 500 was down 3.3% at midday, but is still up just above 10% for the week. The benchmark index shot up 17% over the previous three days as traders became hopeful that Congress would pass the $2.2-trillion economic-aid package. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 3.6%. It’s up more than 13% for the week. European markets also fell. Asian markets closed mostly higher.
The House of Representatives was due to vote on the unprecedented economic rescue package later Friday. The bill, which the Senate passed on Thursday, includes direct payments to households, aid to hard-hit industries like airlines and support for small businesses. The business shutdowns that have swept across the country forced 3.3 million Americans to apply for unemployment aid last week, a historic spike.
New government data Friday showed U.S. consumer spending inched up 0.2% last month, matching January’s gain. But economists expect spending will be down sharply in coming months, reflecting the impact of the widespread business shutdowns and layoffs.
The prospect of meaningful financial help to offset the economic damage caused by the coronavirus mitigated some of the concerns about the steep job losses the economy is beginning to see. But the market is likely to see more ups and downs until the outbreak begins to wane, analysts said.
“The key at this point is getting a handle on the spread of the virus so that then we can start to think about what growth looks like for the remainder of the year,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. “As long as the scope of the virus is still so uncertain it’s really hard to make guesses about where growth is going to slow, and that adds fragility to stock prices.”
Traders need to see good news on the number of virus cases, something “the Fed and Congress can’t do anything about,” said Solita Marcelli, deputy chief investment officer, Americas, at UBS Global Wealth Management.
“You can’t really stimulate an economy during a shutdown,” she said. “Once we peak, then the markets will reassess.”
While investors remain worried about the severity of the economic fallout of the outbreak, Friday’s bout of selling shows some traders seized on the market’s recent advance to pocket some gains, Delwiche added.
“It’s profit-taking after the best three-day rally since 1931 on the Dow,” he said.
Investors have yet to get a clear picture of exactly how badly the crisis has hurt corporate profits. Very few companies have dared to issue forecasts capturing the damage, though traders are girding for discouraging results in the next few weeks as earnings-reporting season begins.
The losses were widespread Friday, with cruise lines, hotel operators and big retailers among the biggest losers. Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Carnival led the decliners in the S&P 500. The industry has been among the hardest hit by the economic fallout from the coronavirus. The three cruise operators are down between 70% and 77% so far this year.
In other trading, benchmark U.S. oil was down 5.5% to $21.36 a barrel. Goldman Sachs has forecast that it will fall well below $20 a barrel in the next two months because storage will be filled to the brim and wells will have to be shut in.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 0.73% from 0.81% late Thursday. It had been as low as 0.77% just before the jobless report was released. Lower yields reflect dimmer expectations for economic growth and greater demand for low-risk assets.