Wall Street tumbles, Dow confirms bear market

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street stocks plunged on Wednesday, with the Dow .DJI confirming a bear market for the first time since the financial crisis after the World Health Organization called the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

All three major U.S. stock averages ended the session sharply lower, with the benchmark S&P 500 .SPX and Nasdaq composite index .IXIC both about 19% below their Feb. 19 record closing highs.

A bear market is confirmed when an index closes 20% or more below its most recent closing high.

Market participants were further rattled following a Reuters report that the White House had ordered top-level coronavirus meetings to be classified.

“There’s just a plethora of bad news today, a growing number of people with the disease, there are different points of view in how stimulus should work, and the market is acting accordingly,” said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“You call this thing a pandemic and all hell breaks loose.”

A lack of details from the Trump administration regarding its plans for fiscal stimulus, and partisan wrangling in Washington, added further unknowns to the mix.

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“Fiscal help may be slow in coming, because of differences between the president and Congress on what form it should take,” added Tuz.

Boeing Co BA.N was the biggest drag on the blue-chip Dow, sinking 18.2% after announcing plans for a full drawdown of an existing $13.8 billion loan as early as Friday. The planemaker suffered its biggest ever three-day fall, surpassing the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Stocks worldwide lost ground despite global stimulus efforts to soften the economic blow of the virus, named COVID-19, with Britain and Italy announcing war chests to contend with the growing crisis.

Concerns over the fast-spreading virus have ravaged markets and hobbled supply chains as countries around the world grapple with how to contain both the virus and its economic impact.

As part of those efforts, the U.S. Federal Reserve is widely expected to cut interest rates for a second time this month at the conclusion of a two-day monetary policy meeting next week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 1,464.94 points, or 5.86%, to 23,553.22, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 140.85 points, or 4.89%, to 2,741.38 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 392.20 points, or 4.7%, to 7,952.05.

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All 11 major sectors in the S&P 500 ended the session sharply lower.

Rate-sensitive banking stocks .SPXBK were down 5.9% as U.S. Treasury yields dropped.

Nike Inc NKE.N fell 4.9% on fears of virus-related sales slump in China.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 13.61-to-1 ratio. On Nasdaq, a 8.24-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted no new 52-week highs, and 131 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded six new highs and 816 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 15.10 billion shares, compared with the 11.92 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by Richard Chang