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Dow Wobbles as Coronavirus Clobbers Stock Market Earnings Forecasts

Last Updated March 20, 2023 7:48 AM
Josiah Wilmoth
Last Updated March 20, 2023 7:48 AM

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) wobbled toward a weekly loss as the coronavirus outbreak took a bite out of stock market earnings.

a man in a suit talking on a phone

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) declined on Friday, setting the index up to record a weekly loss.
  • Damage from the coronavirus outbreak prompted another Dow 30 component to cut its earnings guidance.
  • The infection toll continues to mount outside of China, especially in South Korea and Japan.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) fell for a second consecutive day on Friday after one of its “safety stocks” warned that the coronavirus outbreak had put a dent in its earnings guidance.

St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard appeared on CNBC to calm investor fears about the disease , which he claims will “blow over” after a “temporary shock.”

There’s a high probability that the coronavirus will blow over as other viruses have, be a temporary shock and everything will come back.

But investors aren’t so sure. They expect the Fed to cut interest rates to support the stock market, something the central bank appears reluctant to do.

Dow Staggers Toward A Weekly Loss

The stock market suffered an unexpected bout of volatility on Thursday. The Dow fell more than 400 points from its daily high before a recovery slashed those losses to just 128 points.

The Dow whipsawed back into decline on Friday, dropping 122.54 points or 0.42% to 29,097.44.

a line graph showing the price of a stock market
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) whipsawed back into decline on Friday. | Source: Yahoo Finance 

The S&P 500 fell 0.44% to 3,358.55.

The Nasdaq slid 0.41% to 9,710.60 to round out a moderately-bearish day on Wall Street.

Fed Downplays Coronavirus As Outbreak Spreads In South Korea

The Fed’s Bullard remains upbeat about how the U.S. economy and stock market will weather the coronavirus outbreak. And like Vice Chair Richard Clarida , he doesn’t think an interest rate cut is necessary.

Bullard told CNBC:

If you think that this virus is going to dissipate and we’re going to have temporary shocks and then everything’s going to go back to normal, then I think the Fed’s in great shape and we don’t have to lower rates in that scenario.

A lot of the news on the U.S. economy has been good in the last couple of months. I’ve been arguing we’re in good shape for a soft landing in the U.S. economy.

He acknowledged that there’s a “low probability that this could get much worse,” but an increasing number of analysts foresee “much worse” as a base-case scenario for the Dow.

There are currently 76,776 confirmed cases and 2,258 deaths , including nearly 75,500 infections in mainland China. But investors appear more concerned about the spread of the virus outside China’s borders.

a group of people in white suits and masks

South Korea’s infection toll surpassed 200 overnight, and Japan’s is on the verge of crossing into triple digits.

South Korea’s outbreak originated in Daegu at a cult church with apparent ties to Wuhan, China. Hundreds of more church members are exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.

Another Dow Stock Blames Coronavirus For Earnings Guidance Cut

Damage from the coronavirus has already forced multiple Dow Jones components to cut their earnings guidance.

Defensive stock Coca-Cola said today that it expects coronavirus to have a 1-to-2 penny impact  on its first-quarter earnings, although it currently expects to meet its full-year target.

Apple, the Dow’s second most heavily weighted component, rattled Wall Street earlier in the week  when it advised investors that it would not meet its fiscal second-quarter guidance.

Both Apple and Coca-Cola have significant exposure to China, but Goldman Sachs doesn’t believe they’ll be the only ones to take an earnings hit from the coronavirus outbreak. The investment bank told clients that the stock market has failed to price in how severely the virus will bleed profits.

Goldman says that means investors should brace for an impending correction. Cumberland Advisors disagrees.

Cumberland: Earnings Hit Won’t Faze The Stock Market For One Key Reason

a man wearing glasses and a suit looks off into the distance
Cumberland Advisors expects the Fed to cut interest rates to help the stock market weather the coronavirus outbreak. | REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

Writing in market commentary this week, Cumberland Chairman and CIO David R. Kotok predicted that coronavirus would take a bite out of corporate earnings. But he expects that investors will stomach another hike in price-to-earnings (PE) ratios, which are already at unusually-high levels.

Why? Because no matter what Bullard and Clarida say now, Cumberland anticipates a “massive…liquidity response” from central banks around the world.

And liquidity, he says, will inflate stock markets – and PE multiples.

So, we’re leaning to full investment in our portfolios. We don’t like a natural disaster that is sickening many and killing folks every day. We think the spread of the virus will continue. We’ve seen credible estimates as high as an eventual 4-5 million cases and a baseline 2% to 4% fatalities rate worldwide.

But the investment outlook now is for a massive central bank liquidity response, and that means higher multiples for stock markets around the world.

According to futures market data , traders expect that the Fed could execute another interest rate cut as early as June. The probability increases to about 67% following the bank’s July meeting.

But as Fed Chair Jerome Powell warned earlier this month, that could leave policymakers out of options to fight the next recession, whenever it does arrive.

This article was edited by Sam Bourgi.