Jittery Market Takes a Hit as Pandemic Numbers Surge Globally

MANHATTAN (CN) — Capping off the brutal month of March, U.S. markets opened to slight losses Tuesday as several countries reporting spikes in coronavirus-related deaths.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all lost about half a percentage point within a minute of the opening bell.

Health workers prepare to conduct a drive-through Covid-19 test for people at a hospital in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on Monday. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

With the month’s losses on par with the worst of the Great Recession, and sky-high unemployment, work has begun on a fourth stimulus package.

The Trump administration already has attempted to mute the economic fallout with three stimulus bills, the last of which Friday included a massive $2.2 trillion package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that Democrats were working on another bill aimed at hospitals and health care workers on the front lines, as well as funding for such infrastructure as water systems, broadband and the energy grid.

“Our first bills were about addressing the emergency. The third bill was about mitigation,” Pelosi told reporters. “The fourth bill would be about recovery.”

Lawmakers are on recess until April 20.

President Trump has signaled he is open to additional stimulus packages but said he is focused on health care over the economy. During his daily briefing Monday, the president said that “the economy is No. 2 on my list — first I want to save a lot of lives.”

The president has pushed social-distancing guidelines through April 30 after new estimates predicted as many as 200,000 Americans could die from Covid-19 even with social-distancing guidelines in place.

So far, about 164,000 in the United States have been infected by the virus, while 3,100 have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Those numbers are likely to increase as testing becomes more widespread.

Cases of Covid-19, the new strain of coronavirus, have more than doubled in the last week. The virus has affected at least 800,000 and killed nearly 39,000 worldwide.

Several countries in Europe reported alarming numbers of deaths for the virus Tuesday.

On Monday Spain set a worldwide daily record for coronavirus-related deaths, suffering 849, even as new cases reportedly have started to slow. In France, 418 people died from coronavirus Monday, its highest single-day record.

Italy, which leads the world with 11,000 deaths, had seen a two-day decline in its death rate but recorded another 812 lives lost Monday.

European markets were mostly flat Tuesday despite early gains. At 8 a.m. E.S.T. the pan-European Stoxx 600 was up only half a percentage point, while markets in Germany, France and the United Kingdom were all down slightly.

News out of Asia has been relatively positive. Apart from China — whose data is now facing scrutiny — cases of coronavirus have begun to drop off while deaths remain relatively low. South Korea has reported only 162 deaths, while Japan has 56 and Australia has 18.

China, where the virus originated, has confirmed 82,000 cases and 3,300 deaths.

Asian markets had a mixed closing Tuesday. The Japanese Nikkei declined by nearly 1%, while Australia’s ASX 200 fell 2%. South Korea’s KOSPI rose 2%, however, and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange increased 1.8%.

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