Despite surging cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19 around the world, investors have largely been brushing off the risks, confident that vaccines will allow economic activity to return to normal. But that risk assessment may be changing.
Stocks are falling sharply Monday as worries sweep from Wall Street to Sydney that the worsening pandemic in hotspots around the world will derail what’s been a strong economic recovery.
The S&P 500 was 1.9% lower in morning trading, after setting a record high just a week earlier. In another sign of worry, the yield on the 10-year Treasury dropped close to its lowest level in five months. It sank below 1.20% as investors scrambled for safer places to put their money.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 769 points, or 2.2%, at 33,918, as of 10:17 a.m. Eastern time. The Nasdaq composite was 1.7% lower.
Airlines, hotels and stocks of other companies that would get hurt the most by potential COVID-19 restrictions were taking some of the heaviest losses, similar to the early days of the pandemic in February and March 2020. Mall owner Simon Property Group tumbled 7.8%, and cruise operator Carnival lost 7.5%.
The drop also circled the world, with several European markets down nearly 3%, on worries new, more infectious variants of the virus are dragging particularly hard on economies where vaccination rates are low. The price of benchmark U.S. crude, meanwhile, sank more than 5% after OPEC and allied nations agreed on Sunday to eventually allow for higher oil production this year.
The more transmissible Delta variant is causing an alarming rise in coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom and United States, where hospitalizations are also creeping up, as the rate of vaccinations slows.
England is pushing ahead with its so-called “freedom day” on Monday regardless, lifting almost all restrictions on social gatherings and mask wearing, and allowing night clubs to reopen and sports stadiums to operate at full capacity.
But the reopening isn’t eliciting a bullish response from investors. “In markets, Freedom Day is Angst Day as Covid cases rise globally,” Societe Generale strategist Kit Juckes said in a research note on Monday. “The result is a risk averse tone with equities weaker in Asia and Europe, bond yields lower and oil prices down.”
The market’s negative reaction highlights the belief that the pandemic will continue to weigh on businesses and consumers even once lockdown rules are lifted.