Stocks swoon to worst day in month as virus cases surge

Keywords Economy / Stock Market

The stock market descended on Monday to its worst performance in a month as virus cases surged and help for the economy from Washington remained nowhere in sight.

The S&P 500 fell 1.9% Monday to 3,400.19 points, deepening its losses from last week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.3% to 27,685.38, and the Nasdaq dropped 1.64% to 11,358.94 points.

Stocks of companies that need the pandemic to weaken and the economy to return to normal had some of the biggest losses. Cruise lines and airlines fell sharply. Energy stocks also dropped in tandem with crude oil prices. In another sign of caution, Treasury yields pulled back after touching their highest level since June last week. Overseas markets also fell.

Stocks also weakened across much of Europe and Asia. In another sign of caution, Treasury yields were pulling back after touching their highest level since June last week.

“It’s kind of a perfect storm,” said Ross Mayfield, investment strategy analyst at Baird. “The record case numbers and the kind of rolling lockdowns across Europe are getting the headlines. Oil is down on some supply and demand issues. Stimulus seems more and more unlikely by the day, at least pre-election.”

Coronavirus counts are spiking in much of the United States and Europe, raising concerns about more damage to the still-weakened economy. The U.S. came very close to setting back-to-back record daily infection rates on Friday and Saturday. In Europe, Spain’s government declared a national state of emergency on Sunday that includes an overnight curfew, while Italy ordered restaurants and bars to close each day by 6 p.m. and shut down gyms, pools and movie theaters.

Hopes are fading, meanwhile, that Washington will be able to provide more support for the economy anytime soon. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke several times last week on a potential deal to send cash to most Americans, restart supplemental benefits for laid-off workers and provide aid to schools, among other things.

But deep partisan difference remains on Capitol Hill, and time is running out for anything to happen before Election Day on Nov. 3. Any compromise reached between House Democrats and the White House would also likely face stiff resistance from Republicans in control of the Senate. Another concern is that possible delays in sorting out the results of next week’s elections could end up pushing a stimulus deal back indefinitely.

Worries about the diminishing prospect for more stimulus in the short term helped drive the S&P 500 to a 0.5% drop last week, its first weekly loss in the last four.

“While we are seeing nations attempt to stifle the spread of the virus through more localised and tentative restrictions, it seems highly likely that we will eventually see a swathe of nationwide lockdowns if the trajectory cannot be reversed,” said Joshua Mahony, senior market analyst at IG in London.

The U.S. economy has recovered a bit since the stay-at-home restrictions that swept the country early this year eased, and economists expect a report on Thursday to show it grew at an annual rate of 30.2% during the summer quarter after shrinking 31.4% during the second quarter.

But momentum has slowed recently after a prior round of supplemental unemployment benefits and other stimulus that Congress approved earlier this year expired.

Energy stocks dropped to the largest loss among the 11 sectors that make up the S&P 500, falling in concert with oil prices. Nearly 95% of the stocks in the index were lower.

Among the market’s few gainers were companies that can succeed even in a stay-at-home economy. Zoom Video Communications gained 1.7%.

Amazon fared much better than the broader market, shedding a mere 0.5%, while Apple lost an early gain to fall 1%.

Expectations are high for them, and analysts say they’ll report strong results for their latest quarter this week. They and other Big Tech stocks have soared through the pandemic on hopes their growth will only continue as work-from-home and other trends that benefit them accelerate.

This upcoming week is the busiest of this quarter’s earnings season, with more than a third of the companies in the S&P 500 index scheduled to report. Besides Amazon and Apple, Ford Motor, General Electric and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, are also on the docket.

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