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The Fed Cut Rates To Zero But The Move Didn’t Calm The Market

Plus, airlines could be in danger, and Regeneron and Sanofi are soon to begin human trials on a treatment for COVID-19.

Stocks fell sharply to start Monday with the Dow falling 2,174 points, or 9.4%. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq both dropped 9.3%.

Stocks are on track for their worst day since the “Black Monday” crashing of 1987, eclipsing the massive fall seen just last Thursday. Trading was again halted for 15 minutes just after the open as the Dow opened with a loss of 9.7%, the S&P 500 opened 8.1% lower, and the Nasdaq fell 6.1%, triggering the market’s circuit breakers. Prior to the open, futures hit their “limit down” levels. Oil prices also fell, with West Texas Intermediate Crude dropping 10% to trade at $28.57 per barrel and Brent Crude fell 12.1% to trade at $29.74 per barrel. “The demand drop unfolding is like nothing anyone has ever witnessed,” said Simmons Energy analyst Pearce Hammond in a note to clients.

The Fed dramatically stepped up efforts to stabilize the economy over the weekend, slashing interest rates to essentially zero and launching a massive $700 billion quantitative easing program saying “the coronavirus outbreak has harmed communities and disrupted economic activity in many countries, including the United States.” But the aggressive move failed to inspire confidence. “In normal circumstances, a large policy response like this would put a floor under risk assets and support a recover,” said Jason Daw, a strategist at Society Generale SA, in a note. “However, the size of the growth shock is becoming exponential and markets are rightfully questioning what else monetary policy can do and discounting its effectiveness in mitigating coronavirus-induced downside risks.”

Cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. surged to at least 3,774 over the weekend, with at least 69 deaths. School systems across the country have announced closures; California is confining those over 65 to their homes; bars, restaurants, resorts, and shops have been forced to close across the country. Late Sunday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to cancel or postpone gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks, marking its most sweeping recommendation yet. The unprecedented moves are intended to help contain the highly contagious virus, and follow the sweeping restrictions on crowded venues and gatherings imposed by Italy, Spain, and France, though shutdowns in the U.S. are thus far less severe than in parts of Europe. Outside of the U.S., global confirmed cases of the coronavirus have risen to at least 169,387. Today, the president of EU commission proposed a ban on non-essential incoming foreign travel for the next month, a drastic move to cut off the flow of people as the coronavirus spreads around the world. The measure covers 30 countries, and there’s hope that Britain and Ireland will also align with the proposal.

Airlines around the world are shrinking operations to just a trickle of flights, severing global links as companies fight to preserve cash and survive the coronavirus pandemic. The abrupt cuts across airlines could reverberate across the economy with hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk, and putting manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus and other suppliers on shakier footing. “The speed of the demand fall-off is unlike anything we’ve seen – and we’ve seen a lot in our business,” wrote Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian in a letter to employees from Friday. “We are moving quickly to preserve cash and protect our company.” Sydney-based consultancy CAPA Centre for Aviation warned in a note today that many airlines will be driven into technical bankruptcy or substantially breached debt covenants, if they haven’t been already as planes are grounded. “Coordinated government and industry action is needed—now—if catastrophe is to be avoided,” CAPA wrote. Otherwise, “emerging from the crisis will be like entering a brutal battlefield, littered with casualties.”

Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals will soon begin evaluating an experimental treatment for COVID-19 in patients hospitalized with severe cases of the virus. Regeneron will be leading the U.S.-based trials and will immediately begin enrolling patients across 16 sites, beginning with medical centers in New York. Sanofi will lead trials in the upcoming weeks outside of the U.S., including in Italy and other countries hardest hit by the outbreak. The later-stage clinical trial will include up to 400 patients for the drug, Kevzara, which is a fully-human monoclonal antibody that inhibits the so-called interleukin-6 pathway, targeting the overactive inflammatory response in the lungs of patients who are severely or critically ill with the virus. The two companies will first evaluate how Kevzara, which is already approved for the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis, impacts patients’ fevers and need for supplemental oxygen. They will also assess the improvement in longer-term outcomes including preventing death and reducing the need for mechanical ventilation, supplemental oxygen, and hospitalization.

Stocks We’re Watching

Opko Health Inc (NASDAQ: OPK): Opko Health shares bounced late last week after the company’s BioReference Laboratories business announced that it is accepting specimens for testing from healthcare providers nationwide, and that it is working with New York’s Department of Health to create a drive-thru testing facility for the coronavirus in New Rochelle, NY, a community that has been hit hard by the epidemic. BioReference Laboratories executive chairman Jon R. Cohen, M.D., said of the news, “Cases of COVID-19 are increasing across the US, making access to testing a critical component in helping healthcare providers identify infected patients more quickly. BioReference has been working expeditiously to develop and offer this test that will yield high-quality and accurate results. I believe that the private sector should be part of the solution in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak and am proud that BioReference can assist Governor Cuomo as he leads New York State through this crisis.”

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