Global stocks hammered as coronavirus cases surge in South Korea and Italy

Author: Rob McLean, Laura He and Charles Riley / CNN Business
Published: Updated:
CASALPUSTERLENGO, ITALY - FEBRUARY 23: A man wearinig a respiratory mask and gloves is pictured on February 23, 2020 in Casalpusterlengo, south-west Milan, Italy. Casalpusterlengo is one of the ten small towns placed under lockdown earlier this morning as a second death from coronavirus sparked fears throughout the Lombardy region. (Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)
Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images/FILE

Stock markets are falling around the world after the number of coronavirus cases surged in Italy and South Korea, putting two more major economies at risk from a virus that has already caused widespread disruption in China.

The Dow plunged as much as 997 points, or 3.4%, when US markets opened on Monday. The S&P 500 fell up to 3.2%, and the Nasdaq lost nearly 4.3%. The VIX, a measure of market volatility, shot up 40%.

The indexes have since recovered slightly, but the Dow is still off nearly 800 points, or 2.7%.

The declines follow steep losses in Asia and Europe on Monday as investors take in the risks to corporate profits and economic growth posed by the coronavirus’ spread.

South Korea’s Kospi index closed down nearly 3.9%, its worst day since October 2018, after coronavirus cases in the country surged past 800. In Italy, the main market index was down more than 5.7% after the number of cases there topped 200 — including five deaths — and authorities started shutting down public buildings, schools and sports events in parts of the country.

A growing number of companies are warning that the coronavirus will prevent them from meeting sales or profit targets for the first three months of the year. Reduced demand for goods and services, and factory closures in China, are also expected to knock the global economy and weigh on trade at a time when Japan and Germany are already teetering on the brink of recession.

The stock market reaction to the outbreak had so far been muted, and US stocks have notched a string of record highs. But the spike in the number of cases in Italy and South Korea, the world’s eighth and twelfth largest economies, raises fears of a pandemic and ups the stakes for businesses and investors.

On Monday, investors across much of the developed world sold stocks and rushed into safe haven assets such as gold. The United Kingdom’s FTSE 100 is down 3.5% and Germany’s DAX has shed nearly 4%. In France, the CAC 40 dipped 4%.

In Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 1.8%, while China’s Shanghai Composite fell 0.3%.

Oil prices tumbled, too, on fears that reduced economic activity will hit demand for energy. US futures fell 4.2% to trade at $51.15 per barrel. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, lost about 4.7% and was last trading at $55.77 per barrel.

Investors meanwhile piled into gold, sending prices up nearly 2%. The Swiss franc, another traditional safe haven, strengthened against the US dollar.

Coronavirus-related deaths have risen to more than 2,620 worldwide, with over 30 outside of mainland China. There are at least 79,300 confirmed cases globally.

Italian authorities have announced sweeping closures in the country’s north as they scramble to contain Europe’s biggest outbreak. Italy’s confirmed cases surged from three on Friday morning to more than 150 on Sunday. The outbreak is the biggest so far outside Asia.

— Julia Horowitz contributed reporting.

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