March 20, 2020 / 12:20 PM / 8 days ago

Wall Street slips as New York toughens up for coronavirus battle

(Reuters) - The S&P 500 and the Dow dipped in choppy trading on Friday, as the New York state ordered all non-essential workers to stay at home to contain the coronavirus outbreak that has fuelled the worst monthly rout in U.S. equities in three decades.

The three main indexes made a short-lived attempt to build on Thursday’s gains as global policymakers turned on all the taps to prop up financial markets reeling under four weeks of heavy selling that ended Wall Street’s record 11-year bull run.

Investors are now counting on further stimulus over the next few days, as the Senate mulls a $1 trillion package that would include direct financial help for Americans.

“These are really unprecedented times,” said Ryan Giannotto, director of research at GraniteShares in New York.

“The real problem is how long the quarantine will last. (Now) people won’t be asking what 2008 was like, they’ll be asking what 2020 was like.”

Fears over the severity of the outbreak have wiped off nearly 30%, or more than $8 trillion, from the value of the benchmark S&P index since its record closing high on Feb. 19.

A Reuters poll of economists suggested the global economy was already in recession, while analysts at U.S. stock market index operator S&P Global said volatility across geographies and asset classes was at record highs.

Markets also faced “quadruple witching” on Friday, as investors unwind positions in futures and options contracts before their expiration.

At 1:24 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 163.33 points, or 0.81%, at 19,923.86, while the S&P 500 .SPX was down 23.72 points, or 0.98%, at 2,385.67. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 4.75 points, or nearly flat, at 7,145.83.

AT&T Inc (T.N) tumbled 7.8% as the wireless carrier warned the outbreak might have a material impact on financial results and cancelled a $4 billion share repurchase agreement.

Six of the 11 major S&P sectors were trading lower, with consumer staples .SPLRCS and communication services .SPLRCL leading the declines.

The airlines sector .SPCOMAIR rose 2% after losing more than half its value since late February.

Specialist trader Michael Pistillo prepares for work inside a post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The energy sector .SPNY bounced 1.3% off its lowest levels in nearly two decades, even as oil prices weakened. [O/R]

Advancing issues almost matched decliners on the NYSE and the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded no new 52-week high and 42 new lows, while the Nasdaq logged three new highs and 124 new lows.

Additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila

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