March 22, 2020 / 8:22 PM / 15 days ago

Wall Street stares down another bleak week, with coronavirus risks amplified

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street analysts and investment managers expect another rough week for U.S. markets due to coronavirus fears, with a wild open for futures on Sunday evening as lawmakers battled over an economic aid package in Washington.

FILE PHOTO: An empty street is seen in Manhattan borough following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York City, U.S., March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon/File Photo

Stock-market futures fell sharply and Treasury-bond futures rose, signaling more “flight-to-safety” trades in the week ahead. Despite the historic plunge in share prices over the past few weeks, it is difficult to predict a bottom, Wall Street analysts and investment managers said.

“We need to get some stabilization in news flow before the markets turn,” said Carol Schleif, deputy chief investment officer at Abbot Downing.

The spread of coronavirus across the greater New York City area may be feeding into anxiety on Wall Street, she said. Cases there skyrocketed over the weekend, with Mayor Bill de Blasio saying hospital staff are 10 days away from running out of crucial supplies.

The total number of U.S. coronavirus cases rose to more than 33,000 as of Sunday afternoon, up from about 3,600 a week earlier, according to Reuters’ tally. At least 390 people have died.

(Click here here for a graphic of U.S. coronavirus cases.)

Several states have expanded their restrictions on business operations or non-essential movement by citizens in recent days. Nearly one in three Americans is now being ordered to stay home, with bustling cities such as New York and Las Vegas all but shut down.

U.S. stocks have already fallen more than 30% from their mid-February peak as the pandemic has spread, with even the safest areas of the bond market experiencing liquidity stress in a market rout not seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

Just after futures opened on Sunday night, S&P 500 e-minis ESC1 fell 5% to hit their lower limit, oil prices dropped and Treasury bond futures rose sharply.

The decline in economic activity will obviously have a severe impact on the U.S. economy and corporate profits, but market strategists and economists said it is difficult to predict just how severe.

Three major factors are how much aid the federal government will inject into the economy, how effective the aid package’s structure will be and how long it takes for the number of new cases to start declining in the United States - also known as “flattening the coronavirus curve.”

On Sunday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Congress was close to finalizing a relief package that would offer families a one-time $3,000 payment and markets another $4 trillion to support the economy.

But it was not clear when such a measure might pass, as lawmakers argued about the particulars. A bill failed to get through the first procedural hurdle in the Senate on Sunday night.

Economic data set to be released this week, including jobless claims, IHS Markit’s manufacturing survey and consumer sentiment, will help determine where things stand, said Oliver Pursche, chief market strategist at Bruderman Asset Management in New York. But he emphasized that the absence of a relief package will further sour investor sentiment.

The market is simply reflecting distress in the real world, analysts said.

“This is a biological event,” said Nela Richardson, investment strategist at Edward Jones in St. Louis. “The market is a mere symptom of the global pandemic.”

Reporting by April Joyner; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Daniel Wallis

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