Coronavirus reaching pandemic may hurl US economy into recession

Fed may cut rates as a 'way to stem panic'

U.S. equity markets were shoved into their fastest correction in history this week as fears of the coronavirus becoming a pandemic rattled investors and stoked recession fears.

Seven days of heavy selling, including two from the previous week, left the major averages licking their wounds from their steepest weekly plunge since the financial crisis, according to data from the Dow Jones Market Group. When the dust settled, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 3,583 points, or 12.4 percent. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite plunged by 11.5 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively.

“If we get this into the pandemic stage, we are going to have a recession,” Scott Minerd, managing director and global chief investment officer at Guggenheim Partners, which oversees $270 billion in assets, told FOX Business’ Liz Claman.

“Europe has probably already slipped into a recession and I believe China is clearly in a recession at this point," he added. "It’s just a matter of how long it takes to hit our shores.”


The coronavirus outbreak, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened at least 83,694 people and killed 2,861 in 53 countries, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization. The virus has infected at least one person on every continent except Antarctica.

The fast-spreading nature of the virus caused the lockdown of hundreds of millions of people in China, paralyzing supply chains and causing demand destruction for everything from oil to iPhones to automobiles.

While the economic fallout from the outbreak is not yet known, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow tracker suggests the U.S. economy will remain insulated from the outbreak. Its latest reading on Friday forecasts 2.6 percent growth in the first quarter, up from the 2.1 percent pace in the three months through December.

Still, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell felt the need to reassure investors on Friday afternoon, releasing a statement saying the central bank is “closely monitoring developments” and will “act as appropriate to support the economy.”

Michelle Meyer, U.S. economist at Bank of America, sees the Fed cutting its benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points -- double the typical size of a change -- to a range of 1 percent to 1.25 percent at its March 18 meeting as a “way to stem panic.” She says an emergency rate cut is “on the table,” but believes the Fed would prefer to wait “in order to have some data and greater cover to justify the cut.”

Traders agree. Fed fund futures traded at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange show a 91.5 percent chance the Fed cuts by 50 basis points at its March meeting and an 8.5 percent probability of a 25-basis point reduction. On Feb. 19, the market was pricing in just a 6.6 percent chance the Fed would lower rates at all.

The safe-haven appeal of U.S. Treasurys coupled with expectations of a rate cut have caused traders to plow into the securities, driving the benchmark 10-year yield to a record low 1.127 percent. There’s a chance they could even go lower.


“If we go into a recession now, and given where interest rates are and where global rates are, we are the high-yield alternative for the world,” Minerd said. “There'll be so much capital flooding into the United States that I think it's very likely we would push rates into negative territory.”