Fears that the coronavirus pandemic will tip the world into recession and a price war over oil sent stocks plunging on Monday, temporarily halting trading in the United States amid the worst market rout in more than a decade.
What happened: The S&P 500 closed down 7.6%, the index’s worst day since December 2008. The VIX, a measure of stock market volatility, shot up to its highest level since early 2009. And Brent crude, the global benchmark for oil, plummeted a staggering 24%, its worst day for 1991. It closed at $34.36 per barrel, its lowest level in four years.
“This was truly a historic session,” Bespoke Investment Group told clients. “Barring the financial crisis, these sorts of swings haven’t happened in the past 30 years.”
Markets are moving back up on Tuesday as some investors dip their toes back in. S&P 500 futures are up 4.4%. Gains in Asia and Europe were more tepid. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng finished 1.4% higher, while the FTSE 100 climbed 3.6% in London.
But investors still want to know: Is this a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis?
The BlackRock Investment Institute acknowledged Monday that the scale of market moves have been “reminiscent” of 2008. But the asset manager sees fundamental differences.
“The economy is on more solid footing and, importantly, the financial system is much more robust than it was going into the crisis of 2008,” BlackRock said in a note to clients.
Wall Street has been quick to note that banks are better capitalized this time around due to new regulations, and that debt levels, while high, are concentrated in less risky areas. Corporate debt, particularly in the energy sector, could pose a problem, but doesn’t look “large enough (yet) to trigger a global crisis,” Neil Shearing, group chief economist at Capital Economics, said Monday.
This should allow for a faster economic rebound after the coronvirus is brought under control. “Fear can take [the market] lower, but expect [a] quick recovery when health threat recedes,” former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweeted Monday. “Unlike ’08, will avoid systemic damage.”
One issue, however, is that governments and central banks were able to throw massive amounts of money at the problem in 2008. That may not be as effective this time around. President Donald Trump said Monday he would press for a payroll tax cut, but if people are staying at home, they’re unlikely to pump that money back into the economy.
Central banks, meanwhile, have far less ammunition at their disposal, with interest rates already at or near historic lows. And there are concerns that monetary policy remedies take time to flow through the system.