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US Markets | Futures Indicator: Stock futures drop — hit 'limit down' — even as Fed slashes rates; S&P 500 ETF down 10%

Fred Imbert, Silvia Amaro





Stock futures were down sharply on Monday even after the Federal Reserve embarked on a massive monetary stimulus campaign to curb slower economic growth amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Stock market futures hit “limit down” levels of 5% lower, a move made by the CME futures exchange to reduce panic in markets. No prices can trade below that threshold, only at higher prices than that down 5% limit.
Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were off by more than 1,000 points, triggering the limit down level. S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures were also at their downside limits.
This led traders to look at the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) — which tracks the S&P 500 — for a better indication of how the market will open. The SPY ETF plummeted 10% in the premarket, signaling that a “circuit breaker” will be triggered shortly after the regular session starts. ETFs that track the Dow and Nasdaq 100 — the SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF Trust (DIA) and Invesco QQQ Trust — were also down more than 8%.
While the central bank’s actions may help ease the functioning of markets, many investors said they would ultimately want to see coronavirus cases peaking and falling in the U.S. before it was safe to take on risk and buy equities again.
“The Fed blasted its monetary bazooka for sure,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. “This better work because I don’t know what they have left and no amount of money raining from the sky will cure this virus. Only time and medicine will.”

Fed announces QE

The Fed cut interest rates down to basically zero, their lowest level since 2015. The U.S. central bank also launched a massive $700 billion quantitative easing program. President Donald Trump said he was “very happy” with the announcement, adding: “I think that people in the markets should be very thrilled.”
“This, coupled with an important fiscal package, should help cushion the economic downside from the virus’ effect on economic activity,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. “It’s going to be positive, but the market is at the mercy of the virus and at the mercy of whether the containment policies work.”
The Fed’s announcement came after they issued another emergency rate cut earlier this month. It also comes on the heels of the market’s biggest one-day gain since 2008, with the major averages all surging more than 9% on Friday.
However, the weekend’s news about the coronavirus outbreak was not helping sentiment. U.S. cases have jumped to 3,774 and 69 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged organizers to cancel or postpone events with at least 50 people.
“The main problem this time as to other market disruptions is the abrupt closure of economic activity,” said Dan Deming, managing director at KKM Financial. “The speed of the impact to middle America, let alone the global community is relatively unprecedented.”
Apple shares plunged by more than 11% in the premarket. Airline stocks also fell broadly. Delta and United traded at least 15% lower while American lost about 20% before the bell.
Bank stocks took a hit, with Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase dropping 16.6% and 15.8%, respectively. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley each traded at least 14% lower while Citigroup fell 16.8%.
The Dow and S&P 500 both fell more than 8% last week along with the Nasdaq Composite, tumbling into bear market territory. A bear market is usually defined on Wall Street as a decline of at least 20% from a high.
Investors have been dumping equities amid worries the coronavirus will slow economic growth and take a bite out of corporate profits. Economists at JPMorgan see negative growth for the first quarter while Goldman Sachs downgraded its first-quarter growth forecast to flat from 0.7%.
“The rapid spread of COVID-19 across the globe has dramatically heightened investor uncertainty and rocked global financial markets,” strategists at MRB Partners said in a note, adding the situation will “get worse before it gets better.”
“Looking ahead, the number of active cases is likely to worsen in the near run,” they said.
More than 169,000 cases around the world have been confirmed, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.

Data

In terms of data, there will be New York Empire State manufacturing numbers at 8:30 a.m. ET.
There are no corporate earnings to note Monday. In other corporate news, Apple said over the weekend that it would close all its retail stores outside of Greater China until March 27. The tech giant has 510 stores around the world, 271 of which are in the U.S.

—CNBC’s Jeff Cox and Pippa Stevens contributed to this report.

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