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North American stock markets plunge in initial trading, loonie down amid virus outbreak

Last Updated Mar 9, 2020 at 8:46 am PDT

Trader Gregory Rowe prepares for the day's activity on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Monday, March 9, 2020. Trading in Wall Street futures has been halted after they fell by more than the daily limit of 5%. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Stocks plummeted at the opening bell

The plunge triggered a trading halt for 15 minutes

NEW YORK — Stocks plummeted at the opening bell, triggering a trading halt for 15 minutes, as a Saudi-Russia oil production war added to damage from the COVID-19 outbreak.

The S&P/TSX composite index was down 1,441.65 points at 14,733.37, while the Dow Jones industrial average was down 1,884.88 points at 23,979.90. The S&P 500 index was down 208.16 points at 2,764.21, while the Nasdaq composite was down 588.18 points at 7,987.44.

The steep drop followed similar falls in Europe after a fight among major crude producers jolted investors who were already on edge about the widening fallout from the novel coronavirus spread.

The main stock indexes in Britain and Germany were down by almost 7%. Japan’s benchmark closed down 5.1% while Australia’s lost 7.3% and the Shanghai market in China was off 3%.

Trading in Wall Street futures was halted for this first time since the 2016 U.S. presidential election after they fell more than the daily limit of 5%. Bond yields hit new lows as investors bought them up as safe havens.

Oil prices are down about 20%, deepening a rout that began when Saudi Arabia, Russia and other producers failed to agree on cutting output.

Meanwhile, the loonie plunged against the U.S. dollar.

The Canadian dollar traded for 73.47 cents U.S compared with an average of cents U.S. on 74.51 cents U.S.

All the selling is the result of fear of the unknown. As COVID-19 spreads around the world, many investors feel helpless in trying to estimate how much it will hurt the economy and corporate profits, and the easiest response to such uncertainty may be to get out. After initially taking an optimistic stance on the virus — hoping that it would remain confined mostly in China and cause just a short-term disruption — investors are realizing they likely woefully underestimated it.

More than 110,000 people have been infected by the virus globally, with thousands of deaths reported.

The new coronavirus is now spreading on every continent except Antarctica and hurting consumer spending, industrial production, and travel.

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