Dow average suffers worst quarter since 1987

  • U.S. index futures fluctuated on Tuesday while European stocks headed for a fifth increase in six sessions amid debate over whether the market meltdown has ended given the continued spread of the coronavirus. Treasuries and the dollar advanced.

    U.S. index futures fluctuated on Tuesday while European stocks headed for a fifth increase in six sessions amid debate over whether the market meltdown has ended given the continued spread of the coronavirus. Treasuries and the dollar advanced. Associated Press

Updated 3/31/2020 3:40 PM

U.S. stocks sank, bulging the Dow Jones Industrial Average's loss in the quarter to a level not seen since 1987 as the pandemic almost certainly plunged the American economy into recession.

The blue-chip index tumbled 23% in the three months, closing the session with a 1.8% drop. The S&P 500 fared little better, even after a furious, weeklong 17% rally that halted Tuesday. The Nasdaq 100 fell least among major indexes, as dip-buyers targeted the cash-rich tech megacaps that make up its core. The Russell 2000 plunged 31% in the quarter, the most in data going back to 1979.


There was almost nowhere to hide for Dow investors, as all but one of the 30 members ended lower for the year. Boeing plunged 54%, while Chevron and Exxon sank at least 39% after oil suffered its worst quarterly beatdown on record. Microsoft fared best, ending higher by 0.01%.

Risk assets around the world tumbled in the period as governments instituted unprecedented shutdowns in large swaths of the global economy to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Massive government spending and monetary stimulus lifted U.S. stocks from a rout that reached 33%, but the hit to GDP is shaping up to be monumental, with Goldman Sachs now forecasting a 34% contraction in the second quarter before a sharp rebound.

As March ends, here are some of the major quartlery moves:

The record bull market in U.S. stocks turned into a bear market on March 12, 11 years and three days after the last one ended.

Bloomberg's dollar index surged 5%, most since 2016, even after tumbling more than 3% since March 23.

The Cboe Volatility Index averaged 57 in March, triple the mean in the prior decade.

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European shares plunged more than 20% for the worst three months since 2002. Spain lost 30%.

West Texas oil lost 67%, the worst quarter on record.

The 10-year Treasury yield hit 1.94% on Jan. 20. It fell to 0.31% by March 9 and is just above 0.67% now.

Gold topped $1,700 in early March before plunging $200 an ounce. It's on track for a sixth quarterly gain.

China's Shanghai Composite lost 10%, while Tokyo's Topix fell almost 20% in its worst three months since 2008.

Copper fell 23% and nickel lost 19%, both most since 2011.

The pound fell more than 6%, while the yen was virtually flat versus the dollar.

South Africa's rand had its worst quarter since 2001 and Mexico's peso fell the most since 1995.

On Tuesday, investors focused on signs that Congress could deliver a fourth round of stimulus as the virus spreads deeper in the country. President Donald Trump is reportedly seeking a $2 trillion infrastructure package. Treasuries edged higher, while the dollar fell and crude pushed back above $20 a barrel.


Investors are at a crossroads, questioning whether extraordinary stimulus by countries and central banks can counter further retrenchment of firms and consumers as the outbreak spreads.

New York City, which is emerging as the new epicenter of the pandemic, reported a 16% increase in deaths in six hours. Italy and the Netherlands are considering extending lockdowns, and Spain's 849 deaths were the most in one day for the country.

"The recent market movements do reflect efforts to factor in what has happened on the pandemic control side of things and the stimulus measures," Cameron Brandt, director of research at EPFR, said by phone. "It's almost certain that we'll continue to see volatility."

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 rose and a measure of corporate-credit stress eased. Equities were mixed in Asia, where China had stronger-than-anticipated manufacturing data. The dollar rose versus the euro.

In China, the official purchasing managers' index rose to 52.0 this month. That's up from a record low of 35.7 in February and above the 50 mark which signals improving conditions. Still, the country's bureau of statistics cautioned that the single-month data didn't necessarily mean that economy has returned to normal level amid continuing coronavirus concerns.

These are the main moves in markets:


The S&P 500 Index fell 1.6% as of 3 p.m.

The Nasdaq 100 Index dropped 1%.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index added 1.7%.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index gained 0.3%.


The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index fell 0.2%.

The euro declined 0.2% to $1.1026.

The British pound was little changed at $1.2417.

The Japanese yen gained 0.2% to 107.56 per dollar.


The yield on 10-year Treasuries declined five basis points to 0.68%.

Germany's 10-year yield climbed by two basis points to -0.47%.


Gold sank 3.1% to $1,591.60 an ounce.

West Texas Intermediate crude increased 0.9% to $20.28 a barrel.

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