Wall St set for worst quarter in decades as stocks slide


Stocks sank lower on Wall Street as the New York Stock Exchange was set to finish March with its worst three-month period in 82 years.

The S&P 500 index fell a relatively modest 1.3 per cent, leaving it down nearly 19 per cent for the March quarter - the worst first-quarter performance since 1938.

And the Dow Jones industrial average dropped as much as 293.63 points, or 1.3 per cent, to leave it down by 21.7 per cent, its worst quarter since 1987 and the biggest March quarter collapse in history.

To round out the carnage, the tech-focused Nasdaq was on track to finish its worst first quarter since 2008 as it dropped as much as 0.8 per cent.

Wall Street's yoyo performance continued after US consumer confidence tumbled to its lowest level in nearly three years as the market wrapped up one of the most brutal quarters in its history.

Traders on the floor of the NYSE on Wall Street. Picture: AP
Traders on the floor of the NYSE on Wall Street. Picture: AP

The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its confidence index dropped to a reading of 120 in March from February's 132.6. It was the lowest reading since the index was at 117.3 in June 2017.

The steep decline in March reflected rising worries about the coronavirus during the survey period of March 1-18. Economists say confidence is sure to fall further as the virus' impact takes a bigger toll on the economy.


Analysts said the sharp drop in the confidence index reflects rising concerns about the damage the virus will cause and about the sharp declines in stock markets.

"The intensification of COVID-19 and extreme volatility in the financial markets have increased uncertainty about the outlook for the economy and jobs," said Lynn Franco, senior director of economist indicators at the Conference Board.

"March's decline in confidence is more in line with a severe contraction - rather than a temporary shock - and further declines are sure to follow."

Job openings reportedly fell by nearly 9 per cent over the past week, with the drop particularly acute in consumer-related services and trade and transportation.



Travel and tourism openings fell by 44.6% and arts and entertainment dropped 30% during the period.

Goldman Sachs revised its view for how the coronavirus will impact the US economy, predicting a sharper downturn than first thought followed by an even bigger upturn.

Among its expectations are that the unemployment will peak around 15 per cent later this year, well above original expectations for 9 per cent.





Originally published as Wall St set for worst quarter in decades as stocks slide