Wall Street is waking up to the threat of the coronavirus.
The stock market took a dip Monday morning in the face of increasing fears about the coronavirus’s potential impact on the global economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and Nasdaq all ended the day down by more than 3 percent. The Dow tumbled by more than 1,000 points, erasing its gains for the year.
There have been concerns about the coronavirus for months, but worries about it approaching pandemic status have been building in recent days. As Vox’s Julia Belluz explained, as of Monday, there were more than 79,000 cases of Covid-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus strain) in 29 countries.
While most cases have been found in China, countries around the world have reported surges in recent days, including Italy, Iran, and South Korea. Italy quarantined multiple towns and canceled the Venice Carnival and several football events. And an outbreak on a cruise ship outside Japan has increased concerns, too. “The likelihood that we’re in a pandemic, a new disease that spreads around the world — or that we’re hurtling toward one — seems higher than just a week ago,” Belluz wrote.
The World Health Organization said it believes there’s still time to contain the virus and that its epidemic peak may be declining in China, but other experts believe the virus has already spread widely and anticipate epidemics around the world. Either way, the threat is causing ripples across global stock markets and economies.
An investor survey conducted by the market insight and research firm DataTrek Research released on Sunday found that most investors still believe coronavirus will not cause a global economic recession, and only about one-third of them had made changes to their or their clients’ portfolios, taking into account the risks of the disease. But it’s worth noting the survey was collected between Tuesday and Saturday of last week, before the latest wave of fear-inducing news hit.
In a note to clients on Monday, Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at the research firm Pantheon Macroeconomics, warned that “virus-induced nerves will persist until non-China cases decline” and said there’s still a lot of uncertainty on the impact of the coronavirus. “At this point, no one knows — and no one can know — whether these fears [around the virus] will prove justified, which means that markets are now slaves to the news,” he wrote.
The spread of the disease in China and elsewhere has already impacted global supply chains and travel, and the situation could worsen. Last week, Apple said it would slash sales expectations, noting its smartphone supply was going to slow because so much of its production is based in China, and saying that demand for its devices in China had been harmed. As CNBC noted on Monday, the coronavirus-induced market slide was specifically felt by airlines and chipmakers. And it’s not just US stocks that are suffering — markets around the globe shuddered, too.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett on Monday told CNBC that the US economy still looks pretty solid, but President Donald Trump’s trade war and coronavirus are cause for concern. “Tariffs — the tariff situation was a big question mark for all kinds of companies. And still is to some degree. But that was front and center for a while. Now, coronavirus is front and center,” he said.
While the coronavirus news and its potential effects on the global economy and markets are worrying, it’s important not to panic. (Today is perhaps not the day to look at your 401(k) balance.) The Dow is just slightly below where it started in 2020, and it’s about 2,000 points above where it was this time a year ago.