Panic grips financial markets after U.S. travel curbs, ECB move

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Panic hit world financial markets on Thursday after stimulus efforts from the European Central Bank failed to calm investors alarmed by U.S. moves to restrict travel from Europe because of the coronavirus pandemic.

An MSCI global gauge of stocks posted its largest daily percentage drop on record, as did European shares .STOXX. Wall Street's Dow industrials index .DJI recorded its largest daily decline since the Black Monday crash of October 1987.

The New York Federal Reserve pumped more liquidity to banks, briefly reversing some of the day’s losses. It was the third substantial increase in repo support announced by the U.S. central bank this week, a sign the Fed is taking drastic steps to inject more liquidity into the banking system as markets show signs of stress.

The U.S. dollar responded atypically, rising against numerous currencies and gold in yet another sign of financial market stress. Oil prices sank further, while traditional safe-haven assets like gold and the Japanese yen lost value against the dollar.

Trading was halted for 15 minutes shortly after the open in New York after the benchmark S&P 500 stock index tumbled more than 7%. It ended down 9.5%.

In a televised address late on Wednesday that included support measures for the economy, U.S. President Donald Trump imposed restrictions on travel from Europe to the United States, shocking investors and travelers.

Traders were disappointed after hoping to see broader measures to fight the spread of the virus and blunt its expected blow to economic growth.

“The economy is going to grind to a halt in the next month and the recession risk is real now,” said Zhiwei Ren, managing director at Penn Mutual Asset Management in Horsham, Pennsylvania.

Trump said the United States would suspend all travel from Europe, except Britain and Ireland, for 30 days starting on Friday. He later said trade would not be affected by the restrictions.

Worries spread far beyond stocks to companies’ lines of credit and their ability to finance business activity in the short term.

Fear of the unknown “is gripping markets and it’s more impactful in the credit markets at the moment; liquidity has effectively evaporated,” said John McClain, a portfolio manager at Diamond Hill Capital in Columbus, Ohio. “People are looking ahead and saying ‘What’s this world going to feel like when we’re all working at home?’”

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The European Central Bank approved fresh stimulus measures and temporarily dropped banks’ capital requirements to help the euro zone cope with the shock of the pandemic, but kept interest rates on hold, disappointing markets.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJIsank 2,352.6 points, or 9.99%, to 21,200.62, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 260.74 points, or 9.51%, to 2,480.64 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 750.25 points, or 9.43%, to 7,201.80.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index .STOXX lost 11.48% and emerging market stocks lost 6.71%.

Japan's Nikkei futures NKc1 lost 10.88%.

MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe .MIWD00000PUS shed 9.51% and was down more than 20% from its 52-week peak. The index has lost more than 26% over the last 20 sessions.

The VIX volatility index .VIX - Wall Street's "fear gauge" - and an equivalent measure of volatility for the Euro Stoxx 50 .V2TX hit their highest since the 2008 financial crisis.


Fed fund rate futures <0#FF:> are now pricing in a 1.0 percentage point cut, rather than 0.75, at a policy review next week.

The euro weakened after the ECB stimulus announcement.

Demand for dollars via the currency derivative markets surged to the highest levels in years in a sign that coronavirus-induced economic stress is starting to manifest itself in a broad scramble for funding in dollars.

“Dollar liquidity is king in times of crisis and that is what the blow-out in swap spreads is telling us,” said Kenneth Broux, a currency strategist at Societe Generale in London.

He said this could mark a move into the next sell-off stage, which could mean a three-week-long worldwide rout in shares and riskier bonds giving way to a rush for dollars.

The dollar index =USD rose 0.792%, with the euro EUR= up 0.08% to $1.1192.

The Japanese yen weakened 0.09% versus the greenback at 104.76 per dollar, while Sterling GBP= was last trading at $1.2585, up 0.11% on the day.

The Brazilian real BRL=, Colombian peso COP= and Mexican peso MXN= all hit historic lows versus the greenback.

Bitcoin plunged 28.1% amid wild volatility in cryptocurrency markets. BTC=BTSP

Oil prices were also hit, compounded by an intensifying price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, on top of fears of a sharp slowdown in the global economy.

U.S. crude CLc1 fell 6.03% to $30.99 per barrel and Brent LCOc1 was last at $32.84, down 8.24% on the day.

Spot gold XAU= dropped 3.5% to $1,576.79 an ounce. Palladium XPD= dropped 20.6% to $1,831.09 an ounce.

Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes US10YT=RR rose 3/32 in price to yield 0.8121%, from 0.822% late on Wednesday.

Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, Saikat Chatterjee and Sujata Rao in London, Karen Pierog in Chicago, Medha Singh in Bengaluru, Ann Saphir in San Francisco and Jonnelle Marte, Kate Duguid, Karen Brettell, Herb Lash and Saqib Iqbal Ahmed in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler