Wall Street has a grisly morning after rate cut fails to calm markets

Wall Street had a grisly start to the week, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average sliding by 2,800 points at session lows in Monday’s morning trading.

The massive sell-off came despite emergency action from the Federal Reserve on Sunday to shore up the economy by infusing markets and Main Street with easier access to cash.

The week’s trading halted before it even started, with the S&P 500 triggering a “limit down” threshold in premarket activity. Within seconds of the opening bell, the S&P 500 fell again, by 7 percent, triggering a circuit breaker that halted all trading on the exchange floor for 15 minutes.

When trading resumed, all three major averages extended their losses, with the Dow settling with a decline of around 1,800 points by midday.

The chaos came just over 12 hours after the Fed unleashed a series of crisis response measures, slashing rates to almost zero Sunday night, injecting cash into Treasurys, and announcing coordinated efforts with central banks across the world to ensure liquidity as the coronavirus pandemic takes a hold on the global economy.

The seriousness of the situation implied by the Fed’s response to the coronavirus threat triggered global selloffs in stocks, oil futures and even gold, which is usually seen as a “safe haven” investment when stocks tumble.

But as the market absorbs the very modest effects of the Fed’s action, traders remain unconvinced that even such unprecedented measures will offset the financial blow.

“Reducing interest rates to borrowers will ease the burden of existing debts slightly but is unlikely to spur the usual surge of borrowing as consumers and businesses batten down the hatches for a coming drop off in U.S. economic activity,” Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, said.

“The central banks threw the kitchen sink at it yesterday evening, yet here we are,” Societe Generale strategist Kit Juckes told Reuters. “There is a great sense that central banks are going to get to grips with the issues of getting money flowing … But the human problem, the macro problem, there is nothing they can do about that.”

That problem became more apparent this weekend, with supermarket shelves stripped bare as people stocked up for an extended home stay due to the closure of many school districts and businesses.

While President Donald Trump praised the Fed for its action Sunday, he also noted that Americans did not need to “hoard essential food supplies.”

“You don’t have to buy the quantities because it’s hard to refill the stores,” he told reporters at the White House, after a call with the heads of chains including Walmart, Whole Foods and Target.

Manufacturing data released from China over the weekend were a troubling indication of what could happen in the U.S., with retail sales down by 20.5 percent and industrial output down by 13.5 percent.

Monday’s trading halt marks the third time since the coronavirus outbreak that U.S. markets have paused activity. If the S&P falls by 13 percent after its first halt, the circuit breaker will be triggered again. A drop of 20 percent would halt trading for the rest of the day.

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