Stock futures plummet, triggering a buying and selling halt amid uncertainty at executive response to virus outbreak


Stock futures fell in early morning trading on Wednesday as the markets remained highly volatile with the government response to the coronavirus fallout still unfolding.

Around 5:50 a.m. ET, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average indicated a more than 1,000-point loss at Wednesday’s open. S&P 500 and Nasdaq-100 futures were also down. Futures contracts for the indices were in “limit down” territory, a situation where trading is halted after futures have hit a 5% loss and can go no lower.

Exchange-traded funds that track the indexes are not subject to limit-down restrictions, however, and suggested what the open would look like. The SPDR S&P 500 ETF was down 5.6% in premarket trading, the SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF was down 5.9%, and the Invesco QQQ Trust was off 5.7%.

Recent overnight trading of futures contracts has seen extreme volatility, leaving many investors to believe computer trading has exaggerated moves in the market’s collapse stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.

The movement comes amid historic highs on the Cboe Volatility Index, which closed above its 2008 financial crisis peak on Monday. That index looks at options prices for the S&P 500 and is also known as the “fear gauge” of Wall Street.

On Tuesday, the markets rebounded from their deepest rout since 1987 as investors grew hopeful that the Trump administration’s massive fiscal stimulus plans will rescue the economy, which is at risk of falling into a recession due to the coronavirus impact.

The White House is weighing a fiscal package of more than $1 trillion that includes direct payments to Americans and financial relief to small businesses and the airline industry. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also said corporations will be able to defer tax payments of up to $10 million while individuals could defer up to $1 million in payments to the Internal Revenue Service.

Mnuchin told Republican senators that unemployment could reach 20% if Congress doesn’t enact the trillion-dollar stimulus package he proposed, CNBC reported Tuesday evening, citing a source familiar with the matter.

The Dow soared more than 1,000 points on Tuesday to cap off another volatile session, making back less than half of Monday’s steep losses. The S&P 500 gained 6%.

Wall Street has been on an unprecedented roller-coaster ride amid the coronavirus turmoil, with the S&P 500 swinging 4% or more in either direction for seven consecutive sessions. This tops the previous record of six days from November 1929, according to LPL Financial.

On Tuesday, investors also cheered the Federal Reserve’s amped-up effort to help companies having a hard time getting short-term funding. The bank announced a special credit facility to purchase corporate paper from some issuers. This follows the Fed’s emergency $700 billion quantitative easing program and a further 100 basis point cut to interest rates on Sunday.

“Signs are that the pandemic will be brought under control and that the economy will get enough support to weather the storm,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial. “Make no mistake, there will be damage. But from a market perspective, the question will be whether the damage is greater than markets now expect, or less.”

—CNBC’s Eustance Huang and Christine Wang contributed to this report.

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