Investors Dump Stocks, Buy Bonds as Virus Fears Flare Again

Specialist Gregg Maloney works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Monday, July 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Resurgent pandemic worries are knocking stocks lower from Wall Street to Sydney on Monday, fueled by fears that faster-spreading variants of the virus may upend the economy’s strong recovery.

The S&P 500 was 2% lower in afternoon trading, after setting a record just a week earlier. In another sign of worry, the yield on the 10-year Treasury touched its lowest level in five months as investors scrambled for safer places to put their money.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 896 points, or 2.6%, at 33,791, as of 12:42 p.m. Eastern time. The Nasdaq composite was 1.4% lower.

Airlines and stocks of other companies that would get hurt the most by potential COVID-19 restrictions were taking some of the heaviest losses, similar to the early days of the pandemic in February and March 2020. Mall owner Simon Property Group fell 5.4%, and cruise operator Carnival lost 5.2%.

The drop also circled the world, with several European markets sinking roughly 2.5% and Asian indexes down a bit less. The price of benchmark U.S. crude, meanwhile, sank more than 6% after OPEC and allied nations agreed on Sunday to eventually allow for higher oil production this year.

Increased worries about the virus may seem strange to people in parts of the world where masks are coming off, or already have, thanks to COVID-19 vaccinations. But the World Health Organization says cases and deaths are climbing globally after a period of decline, spurred by the highly contagious delta variant. And given how tightly connected the global economy is, a hit anywhere can quickly affect others on the other side of the world.

Experts are saying Indonesia has become a new epicenter for the pandemic as outbreaks worsen across Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, some athletes have tested positive for COVID at Tokyo’s Olympic Village, with the Games due to open Friday.

Even in the United States, where the vaccination rate is generally higher, people in Los Angeles County once again must wear masks indoors regardless of whether they’re vaccinated following spikes in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Across the country, the daily number of COVID has soared by nearly 20,000 over the last two weeks to about 32,000. The vaccine campaign has hit a wall, with the average number of daily inoculations sinking to the lowest levels since January. Cases are on the rise in all 50 states.

Localized coronavirus surges are starting to affect heavily unvaccinated communities in places like Missouri and Arkansas, where hospitals are running out of space again. Almost all of the hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated. More than 68% of the U.S. adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine and 59% are fully vaccinated. And about a dozen states have yet to vaccinate 40 percent of their population.

Financial markets have been showing signs of increased concerns for a while, but the U.S. stock market had remained largely resilient. The S&P 500 has had just two down weeks in the last eight, and the last time it had even a 5% pullback from a record high was in October. expectations, for example, but its stock fell 5.1%.

Across the S&P 500, analysts are forecasting profit growth of nearly 70% for the second quarter from a year earlier. That would be the strongest growth since 2009, when the economy was climbing out of the Great Recesssion.

But just like worries are rising that the economy’s growth has already peaked, analysts are trying to handicap by how much growth rates will slow in upcoming quarters and years for corporate profits.

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