March 31, 2020 / 12:44 AM / in 2 months

Stocks fall, close out biggest quarterly drop since 2008

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Global stock markets fell in volatile trading on Tuesday, and the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic left the MSCI benchmark of world equities with its biggest quarterly decline since the financial crisis of 2008.

Oil prices remained near their lowest levels since 2002 as a worldwide economic slowdown and travel restrictions sapped demand. Crude futures ended the quarter down nearly 70% after record losses in March. Government bond yields held steady as investors remained cautious about buying riskier assets.

Stocks have rallied since the start of last week but remain down more than 20% year to date. European equities finished their worst three months since 2002, while Britain’s FTSE index posted its largest quarterly drop since 1987.

The U.S. benchmark S&P 500 finished its worst first quarter since 1938.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe .MIWD00000PUS shed 0.48%.following modest gains in Europe and steep declines in Asia. The index fell nearly 22% for the quarter.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 410.32 points, or 1.84%, to 21,917.16, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 42.06 points, or 1.60%, to 2,584.59 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 74.05 points, or 0.95%, to 7,700.10..

The Dow briefly turned positive in mid-morning trading before losses accelerated, suggesting some investors were bargain-hunting or rebalancing portfolios at quarter’s end.

“Stocks have been on a wild ride ... not surprisingly, investors are split on whether to lean into or fade the current rally,” said Jonathan Golub, chief U.S. equity strategist at Credit Suisse Securities in New York.

The number of coronavirus infections globally headed toward 800,000. Deutsche Bank analysts noted, however, that for two consecutive days, the global growth in new cases was below 10%, after exceeding that for most of the past two weeks.

Health officials were much more cautious. A World Health Organization official warned that even in the Asia-Pacific region, the epidemic was “far from over.”

Government bond yields dipped slightly, with U.S. benchmark 10-year notes US10YT=RR up 1/32 in price to yield 0.6679%, from 0.671% late Monday.

“In spite of the significant sell-off of most growth-oriented assets since mid-February, we are concerned there is further downside ahead,” said Salman Baig, an investment manager at Unigestion.

“The violent market action should not be understated, but the underlying cause – an accelerating pandemic requiring large parts of the economy to shut down – is still with us.”

FILE PHOTO: The Wall Street sign is pictured at the New York Stock exchange (NYSE) in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

Oil prices stabilized after the United States and Russia agreed to talks to stabilize energy markets a day after crude futures hit 18-year lows. Oil has been hit by a double whammy, with U.S. crude at one point falling below $20 a barrel on Monday, as the virus outbreak has cut global demand even as Saudi Arabia wages a price war with Russia.

Brent crude LCOc1 dipped $0.02, or 0.1%, at $22.74 a barrel. U.S. crude Clc1 climbed 1.4%, to $20.38 a barrel, after closing Monday at $20.09, its lowest since February 2002.

The dollar, measured against a basket of currencies, strengthened 0.4% to 99.652 =USD.

Reporting by David Randall; Editing by Dan Grebler, Nick Zieminski and David Gregorio

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