Stock futures drop, extending Wednesday’s losses as policymakers ready more virus relief measures

Stock futures kicked off the overnight session lower, extending Wednesday’s crushing losses as policymakers and corporations continued to unleash further responses to the global coronavirus outbreak.

During the regular session Wednesday, stocks took a drubbing as traders resorted to more panic selling amid the ongoing pandemic. The Dow dropped 1,338 points, or 6.3%, to settle below the psychologically important level of 20,000 for its lowest close since February 2017. The losses brought the Dow’s total declines since its Feb. 12 closing high to 32.7% – firmly in bear market territory.

The carnage extended across risk assets Wednesday, with U.S. West Texas intermediate crude oil prices closing lower by more than 24% to settle at $20.37 per barrel, the lowest level since early 2002.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has pushed governments around the world to consider stimulus measures and impose stiff restrictions on travel and public gatherings to prevent further spreading.

Late Wednesday, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan, multi-billion dollar emergency package that includes expanded unemployment insurance and paid sick leave for hourly workers. The House of Representatives has already approved the bill, and President Donald Trump has previously voiced his support for the bill as well as further measures to mitigate economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak.

In the private sector, an increasing number of companies have pressed pause on operations and closed brick and mortar locations in effort to protect their workers and slow the spread of the virus. General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler – the three leading U.S. automakers – announced Wednesday their plans to temporarily halt manufacturing operations at their North American factories after union leaders and employees demanded protection from the pandemic.

The outbreak has also now disrupted operations at institutions including the New York Stock Exchange, which said late Wednesday it will temporarily close its trading floor and move to fully electronic trading starting at market open March 23. The decision – which impacts the NYSE equities trading floor in New York, NYSE American Options trading floor in New York, and NYSE Arca Options trading floor in San Francisco – came after two individuals tested positive for COVID-19 during screenings launched at the exchange this week.

While heightened market volatility and a public health crisis have led to some speculation over whether stock exchanges would remain open, regulators including Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman (SEC) Jay Clayton and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have thus far indicated their desire to keep financial markets open.

6:05 p.m. ET: Stock futures fall further after Wednesday’s rout

Futures for each of the three major indices were lower as overnight trading kicked off for domestic equities.

Here were the main moves in markets, as of 6:05 p.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 2,391.25, -22.75 or -0.94%

  • Dow futures (YM=F): 19,703.00, -150 or -0.76%

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 7,145.00, -60.50 or -0.84%

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 18: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on March 18, 2020 in New York City. The Dow fell more than 1,200 points today as COVID-19 fears continue to roil world markets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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