European Bank Efforts Usher In Some Calm to Volatile Markets

MANHATTAN (CN) — U.S. markets opened to somewhat blasé losses in the opening minutes, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling about 2% in early trading and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq lagging slightly behind.

Compared with recent market openings over the last two weeks, during which circuit breakers have been triggered more than four times to halt massive losses, Thursday’s opening was relatively calm, especially after Wednesday, when markets closed at nearly pre-2017 levels.

People walk by an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo on Thursday. Shares in Asia failed to hold onto opening gains, skidding further after the latest selloff on Wall Street. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Thursday’s early losses were expected after futures also took some hits overnight, with the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq markets all down about 2% to 3% before markets opened.

In Europe, markets initially saw slight gains following news the European Central Bank would buy up about $820 billion in securities later this year to help European Union companies. Those gains reversed and turned to minor losses, with most European markets down about 1% as of 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

In Asia, most markets closed with only minor losses, though a few took it on the chin. South Korea’s KOSPI market finished more than 8% down, and Australia’s ASX 200 — which has seen massive sell-offs this week — lost 3.4% on the day.

Lawmakers have tried just about everything to triage the damage. Shortly after the markets closed Wednesday, lawmakers passed a second stimulus to help the flailing economy.

The $100 billion package, which passed 90-8 in the Senate and was signed by President Trump, includes paid sick leave and medical leave for affected workers, free testing for the coronavirus, and aid to small businesses.

A third, much larger stimulus is already in the works. Phase III, as it’s being called, would likely include as much as $500 billion in direct payments to American taxpayers, as well as greater help for the ailing airline industry.

The president also has directed federal housing authorities to suspend all foreclosures and evictions through April, while immigration officials said they would stop making arrests of undocumented aliens until after the coronavirus crisis had ended.

On Thursday, the Federal Reserve — which has already tried a number of tactics to keep liquidity flowing — announced it would create “swap lines” with nine other central banks to help investors exchange dollars for foreign currency.

The currency swaps will be capped at $60 billion for central banks in Australia, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Sweden and Singapore, with $30 billion caps in Denmark, Norway and New Zealand.

COVID-19, the new strain of coronavirus responsible for a global pandemic, has now affected more than 222,000 worldwide and about 9,400 confirmed throughout the entire United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

An estimated 9,100 — with now more than 150 deaths in the United States — have died globally from the virus, data show.

The virus has slowed in some countries. China, where the coronavirus originated and which leads the world in more than 81,000 confirmed cases of infection, announced Thursday that it had no new local infections to report.

Despite flickers of good news, markets in the United States and abroad have seen unprecedented volatility, with indications the wild swings in stock prices won’t end anytime soon as confirmed cases of the virus grow exponentially in many Western countries.

The New York Stock Exchange announced Wednesday that it would temporarily close its trading floors, instead using all-electronic trading starting next week, after two of its members and an employee all tested positive for the virus.

“While we are taking the precautionary step of closing the trading floors, we continue to firmly believe the markets should remain open and accessible to investors,” NYSE President Stacey Cunningham tweeted Wednesday evening.

Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin has said there are no plans to close the exchanges completely but that hours could be trimmed.

Unemployment numbers also have skyrocketed, with some state websites reportedly crashing as a result of high traffic. The Department of Labor announced Thursday that it 281,000 seasonally adjusted unemployment claims during the week ending March 14, the highest reported since September 2017.

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