Picture: ANGELA WEISS/AFP
Picture: ANGELA WEISS/AFP

New York — Wall Street stocks were battered Wednesday as the human and economic toll from the coronavirus continued to rise and more US state governments shut down activity to try to contain the outbreak.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost about 975 points, or 4.4% to finish the day at 20,943.51. The broad-based S&P 500 also dropped 4.4%  to end at 2,470.50, as did the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index, which closed at 7,360.58.

The rout translated into a bruising open to the second quarter after major indices suffered their biggest losses in years in the January-March period.

Stocks were in the red all day after a gloomy White House press conference on Tuesday night when President Donald Trump warned of “hard days” ahead and health experts said the US death count could reach 240,000 people.

More bad news came later as the number of coronavirus cases continued to rise and Florida — one of the last major states that was still largely operational — headed to a 30-day stay-at-home policy after an order from the governor.

US private hiring fell in March by 27,000 the biggest — and only — drop since September 2017, according to the monthly report from payrolls firm ADP, but economists warn that the statistics underestimate the losses as will the official employment report due out Friday.

A survey of manufacturers by the Institute for Supply Management pointed to further contraction in that sector in March, though again some of the data was taken too early in the month to reflect the severity of the hit.

“I've never seen anything move as quickly as this,” said Timothy Fiore, chair of ISM's manufacturing survey. “We haven't hit the bottom of this.”

Markets also are girding for another huge jump in first-time unemployment claims on Thursday.

AFP