'Markets are trading on fear': Stocks tumble as coronavirus panic takes hold

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  • Stocks slumped on Thursday as investors braced for the novel coronavirus to escalate into a pandemic and hammer global growth.
  • The World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that more new cases were reported outside China than inside for the first time.
  • "It's just conceivable that it could throw the United States into a recession," ex-Fed chief Janet Yellen warned of coronavirus the same day.
  • Coronavirus has infected more than 82,000 people, killed at least 2,800, and spread to more than 40 countries.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Stocks tumbled on Thursday as investors panicked at the growing prospect of the novel coronavirus becoming a pandemic and choking global growth.

The virus - which causes a flu-like disease called COVID-19 - has infected more than 82,000 people, killed more than 2,800, and spread to north of 40 countries.

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that the number of new cases reported outside China had exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time, stoking fears of a global health crisis.

"It's just conceivable that it could throw the United States into a recession," Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen warned the same day, referring to the virus. She added that less robust economies in Europe were likely more vulnerable to a downturn.

Here's the market roundup as of 10:47 a.m. in London (5:47 a.m. in New York):

  • European equities slumped with Germany's DAX down 2.3%, Britain's FTSE 100 down 1.9%, and the Euro Stoxx 50 down 2.3%.
  • Asian indexes were mixed. China's Shanghai Composite inched up 0.1% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 0.3%, but Japan's Nikkei slid 2.1% and South Korea's KOSPI fell 1.1%.
  • US stocks are poised to open lower. Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and Nasdaq futures slid 0.7%.
  • Oil prices tumbled, with West Texas Intermediate down 1.9% at $47.80 a barrel and Brent crude down 1.8% at $51.90.

Investors are bracing for coronavirus to disrupt global trade and commerce, analysts said.

"Either COVID-19 is going to spread, making an untold number sick and killing many others, and economies will go into lockdown as supply chains are badly hit," Michael Every, senior Asia-Pacific strategist at RaboResearch, said in a research note on Thursday.

"Or governments are going to lock down anyway, the public are going to rapidly scale back most activities, and supply chains will again be badly hit," he continued.

Companies and economies will suffer if factories and offices close and people are forced to stay home.

"The market is understanding that the coronavirus outbreak will translate into significantly lower earnings and anemic global growth," Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote Bank, said in a morning note.

Investors are worried about the rapid, unpredictable spread of coronavirus and the uncertain scale of the fallout.

"Markets are trading on fear and not on valuations here," Neil Wilson, chief market analyst for Markets.com, said in a morning note.

"If you get a lockdown of London or Paris, or a major outbreak in New York or San Francisco, all bets are off in terms of how low the markets can go," he added.

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