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US trading halted as shares plunge around the world

BusinessUS trading halted as shares plunge around the world

NYSE traderImage copyright
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Trading in US shares was briefly suspended after sharp falls led to an automatic halt in the selling and buying of stocks.

Once trading resumed, the three major US stock indexes were down over 6%.

The move follows dramatic falls globally with shares facing the worst day since the 2008 financial crisis.

A row between Russia and Saudi Arabia saw oil prices plunge by 20%, hitting markets already reeling from fears of the impact of the coronavirus.

Trading on the top three indexes in the US were halted for 15 minutes. When trading resumed 15 minutes later, shares continued to fall, before appearing to stabilise.

The current system was put in place in 2013. This is the first time a stop has been triggered under the current rules.

In US markets:

  • Falls on the Dow Jones index of major companies were led by oil firms Chevron and Exxon Mobil, which fell more than 7%.
  • On the Nasdaq Composite, hard drive maker Western Digital fell 11% and Tesla 10%
  • Oil firms Apache and Marathon oil led the S&P 500 index down, dropping 40% apiece.

The oil price fell nearly 30% to $31.14 on Monday, its biggest single-day fall since the start of the first Gulf war in 1991, before recovering slightly to trade 20% lower.

“It shows a level of nervousness in the market which I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Justin Urquhart-Stewart, co-founder of Seven Investment Management.

Investors are selling stocks at such a rate because they cannot quantify what Saudi Arabia and Russia might do, he said.

Russ Mould, investment director at stockbroker AJ Bell, said: “Back in January the UK stock market was near an all-time high, the US stock market was at an all-time high and markets had become very optimistic, almost complacent, the classic late stage of a stock market cycle. Investors think things will get better forever.”

  • Oil plunges as producers start price war
  • Big banks brace for the coronavirus

The UK falls came as stock markets around the world saw dramatic falls. In Europe, the main stock market indexes in France, Germany and Spain were all trading over 7% lower.

Among the fallers:

  • Oil firms saw the biggest drops, with shares in Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP down by about 15%, while Premier Oil saw its shares more than halve in value
  • In Frankfurt, Deutsche Bank led the declines, falling 12%, followed by Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler, down 10%
  • Similarly in Paris, banks such as Crédit Agricole and Société Générale fell 10%
  • The Russian rouble fell over 8%, on track for its worst one-day drop since December 2014

Elsewhere on the markets, the price of gold hit a seven-year high, trading at $1,700 per ounce. Gold is often seen as a desirable asset to hold in times of uncertainty.

And in a historic moment, the price on benchmark UK government bonds for two-, three-, four-, six- and seven-year maturities rose so high that yields – or the rate of return on the bond – briefly turned negative for the first time. A negative yield means investors will lose money from holding the bond.

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Earlier on Monday, Asian stock markets had also fallen sharply, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 index down 5% while Australia’s ASX 200 slumped 7.3% – its biggest daily drop since 2008.

In China, the benchmark Shanghai Composite fell 3%, while in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index sank 4.2%.

Why should I care if stock markets fall?

Many people’s initial reaction to “the markets” is that they are not directly affected, because they do not invest money.

Yet there are millions of people with a pension – either private or through work – who will see their savings (in what is known as a defined contribution pension) invested by pension schemes. The value of their savings pot is influenced by the performance of these investments.

Pension savers mostly let experts choose where to invest this money to help it grow. Widespread falls in share prices are likely to be bad news for pension savers.

As much as £600bn is held in defined contribution pensions at the moment.

So big rises or falls can affect your pension, but the advice is to remember that pension savings, like any investments, are usually a long-term bet.

Read more here.

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‘Political poker’

The price of oil had already fallen sharply this year as the coronavirus disease began to spread internationally, with demand for fuel expected to decline.

Last week, oil exporters’ group Opec – which includes Saudi Arabia – agreed to cut production in order to support prices.

However, it also wanted non-Opec oil producers such as Russia to agree to cuts, and on Friday Russia rejected the plans.

In response, Saudi Arabia has cut its official selling prices for oil and plans to increase production. The move is seen as Saudi Arabia flexing its muscles in the oil market to make Russia fall into line.

Michelle Wiese Bockmann, commodities analyst and editor for Lloyd’s List, said that the oil market has changed over the past few years and Saudi Arabia was scrambling to maintain its position in the market.

While cuts in production from Venezuela, Iran and Libya should have sent prices up, the US and its massive reserves of shale oil have stepped in at every turn, depressing prices.

“It’s already a very volatile situation,” she said.


by Andrew Walker, World Service Economics Correspondent

The price of crude oil is about half the level it hit in early January.

The root cause of that is the coronavirus. It has hit demand for oil and some of the big exporters have been trying to stabilise its price.

Last week a group of them discussed production cuts.

But the biggest producer among them, Russia refused and the oil price fell further.

Then at the weekend, Saudi Arabia, the biggest of the producers that were pressing Russia to agree output cuts, announced it would increase supplies and offered discounts to its buyers. That sent the oil price into freefall.

That in turn undermined stock markets, although it wasn’t the only factor. The lower oil price is a problem for the credit markets.

Many American shale producers are likely to be unviable and they have borrowed in the high risk debt market, issuing what are called junk bonds. So there is the potential for losses for investors who hold those bonds.

Cheaper oil is obviously a benefit for users. Airlines have been hit by a decline in bookings, but cheaper fuel will offset that a little. And in time, there will be an impact on the price that motorists pay, although in many countries, including Britain, tax accounts for most of what they pay.

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