Global Markets in Turmoil as Oil Plunges, Propelling Yields to Record Lows

Markets shuddered in the face of a price war for oil and the economic fallout from the growing outbreak of coronavirus. Frightened investors poured into haven assets sending yields to unprecedented lows. Oil prices tumbled 30% after Saudi Arabia said it would cut most of its oil prices and boost output when Russia refused to join OPEC in propping up prices (see chart below). Foreign exchange markets convulsed, as the steep drops in oil and share prices overnight sparked a flight from commodity-linked currencies into the perceived safety of the Japanese yen and the US dollar. The Canadian dollar fell to 0.7362 as of this writing. The Government of Canada 5-year bond yield was as low as 0.284% overnight but has since recovered roughly 0.535%, still well below Friday’s closing level of approximately 0.65% (second chart below).

Stock prices have fallen very sharply in the first hour of North American trading. Panic selling sent the Dow down 2,000 points, and the S&P500 sank 7% after triggering a circuit breaker that halted trade for 15 minutes. The TSX took a dizzying nosedive on the open, down more than 1400 points or nearly 9.0% led down by oil stocks and financials.

The spread of coronavirus outside of China tripled over the past week. The US State Department announced yesterday that older people should avoid travel on cruises, particularly if they have compromised immune systems. All of this amplifies recession fears as the outbreak spreads.

There is concern in the US that the government is not handling the outbreak appropriately. Mixed messaging and an inadequate supply of testing kits came as the number of coronavirus cases in the US topped 500 over the weekend. President Trump retweeted a meme of himself fiddling on Sunday, drawing a comparison to the Roman emperor Nero who fiddled as Rome burned around him. This is a time when leadership is of paramount importance.

Borrowing costs are falling sharply–a silver lining for first-time homebuyers. The best advice for investors is not to panic. This, too, shall pass, although no one knows when.

French translation of this email will be available by 5pm ET March 11.

La traduction de ce courriel sera disponible d’ici 17 heures, le 11 mars.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres
drcooper@dominionlending.ca