After two weeks of extreme highs and crushing lows, major U.S. stock indexes were on an upswing Monday, March 30, but analysts cautioned against reading too much into the reprieve. The week ahead will be anything but smooth.
"It's hardly been a calm market," said David Rosenberg of Rosenberg Research. "U.S. equity futures have actually been all over the map today, as have the European bourses, where the region's economic sentiment indexes in March tumbled the most on record. Asia was a sea of red outside of Australia where the market bounced off another huge fiscal stimulus package."
The Dow Jones industrial average picked up steam throughout the morning and was holding onto a 475-point lead, or 2.2 percent, early afternoon. The Standard & Poor's 500 jumped 2.5 percent while the tech-heavy Nasdaq spiked 2.8 percent.
On Friday, Wall Street wrapped up two ferocious weeks of massive stock swings that set marks not seen since the Great Depression, erasing hundreds of billions in wealth. The Dow closed out the week with a 915-point loss, to 21,636, that left it more than 24 percent in the red for 2020 and way off the all-time high set Feb. 12. Multi-trillion-dollar rescue packages from the Federal Reserve and Capitol Hill sparked a robust midweek rally that gave the Dow its second-best three-day run in history.
Despite Friday's loss for the day, the Dow enjoyed its best week since 1938. The week before had been one of its worst.
The novel coronavirus outbreak sent jobless claims soaring to a record 3.3 million last week as companies large and small began cutting staff as business dried up from closed or curtailed operations. But layoffs are still growing, including among white collar workers. March numbers are out Friday.
"This is the week in which the rubber meets the road," said Sam Stovall of CFRA Research. "The March employment report, along with the purchasing managers' reports, will help formalize the severity of the economic shutdown."
Oil continues to plummet as public health orders restricting movement remain in effect. After suggesting that federal social distancing guidelines could be lifted before Easter, President Trump said over the weekend that the restrictions would hold until the end of April. With a lid on consumer demand, crude was trading at $20.36 a barrel Monday morning.
All that has corporations bracing for the coming week, as the economic effects of the covid-19 crisis come into sharper relief. General Motors, which began producing ventilators in its factories nearly two weeks ago, said last week it would furlough 6,500 workers and temporarily cut their pay by 25 percent. Online jobs marketplace Zip Recruiter let go a third of its staff, close to 500 employees, as job postings dried up.
"Broad slowdown in hiring beyond anyone's expectations cut into revenue and required cutting costs," said Julia Pollak, a Zip Recruiter labor economist not part of the layoffs. "White-collar layoffs coming in fast and furious now."
The greatest indicator of the start of market stability, analysts said, is a sign that officials have control over the spread of the virus that's caused life to screech to a halt. If leaders can "flatten the curve" of new infections - that is, spread them out over time to keep health resources from being overrun - the U-shaped curve of the economic slowdown will flatten out, too.
The massive stimulus package plus the Federal Reserve's unprecedented intervention to backstop lending markets by purchasing unlimited amounts of U.S. Treasury and mortgage-backed securities aim to do just that.
"Fed action combined with the [$2.2 trillion] fiscal package will result in a flattening of the recession curve so we now need to carefully monitor the signs of a flattening of the virus curve," Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, wrote in an email. "The Fed and the Treasury are in the process of getting the economy under control, and the latest forecasts suggest that in a few weeks the virus will also be under control. The risks to this outlook are implementation risks of the fiscal package and implementation of virus containment strategies.
Overseas Monday, markets mostly saw red. Germany's blue-chip DAX index was down 1.9 percent, while London's FTSE lost nearly 1 percent. Hong Kong's HSI beat back bigger losses to finish down 1.3 percent and Japan's Nikkei cut its losses to 1.6 percent. India's BSE Sensex took another beating, off 4.61 percent and nearly 10,000 points lower than where it stood at the beginning of March.
This article was written by Thomas Heath and Jacob Bogage, reporters for The Washington Post.