Stocks whipsaw after Fed cuts rates to counter virus effects

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks whipped up and down Tuesday after the Federal Reserve swooped into the market with an emergency interest-rate cut in hopes of shielding the economy from the effects of the fast-spreading virus.

The market shot higher after the surprise announcement, which was the first time the Fed cut rates outside of a regularly scheduled meeting since the 2008 financial crisis. The gains evaporated within 15 minutes, then indexes bounced higher, then lower. By late morning major U.S. indexes were down 1%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average had jumped 5% Monday to its best day in more than a decade on rising anticipation for aid from the Fed and other central banks.

The Fed has a long history of coming to the market's rescue with lower rates and other stimuli, which has helped this bull market in U.S. stocks become the longest in history. Analysts said the Fed's latest cut should provide more confidence to a market dominated by uncertainty about how much economic damage the virus will do.

“Confidence in markets is crucial,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. “Without confidence, you don’t have a market.”

Doubts are still high about whether the medicine provided by central banks can be as effective this time around. Lower rates can encourage shoppers and businesses to borrow and spend more, but they can't reopen factories that have been shut or recall workers out due to quarantines. Companies across continents and industries have already said they expect their earnings to take a hit as supply chains are disrupted and customers are scared away from stores.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 299 points, or 1.2%, at 26,393, as of 11:18 a.m. Eastern time. It was down as many as 356 points shortly after trading opened, only to swing to a gain of 381 points after the Fed's announcement before moderating.

The S&P 500 was down 0.9%, and the Nasdaq was down 0.8%. European stock markets were broadly higher. Asian markets were also generally strong, though Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 1.2%.

Bond yields swung following the Fed's announcement. The yield on the two-year Treasury, which moves on anticipation of Fed actions, fell to 0.75% from 0.81% late Monday. The 10-year yield, which also moves on expectations for economic growth and inflation, dropped to 1.05% from 1.08%.

Earlier in the day, the Group of Seven major industrialized countries pledged support for the global economy but stopped short of announcing any specific new measures. Then the Fed surpised markets with its announcement of the steep, half-point rate cut at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

The G-7, which includes the U.S., Japan and Germany, among others, made its statement after weeks of warnings from companies that the virus will hit their finances. Economic groups have also warned of worsening forecasts for global economic growth.

Payments processor Visa is among the latest companies warning investors. It expects first-quarter revenue to suffer because of the damage to international travel. Chipmaker Microchip Technology withdrew its profit forecast for the year because of the uncertainty surrounding the virus’ impact.

Worldwide, more than 90,000 people have been sickened and 3,100 have died. The number of countries hit by the virus has reached at least 70, with Ukraine and Morocco reporting their first cases.

U.S. markets have been hit hard by fear over the virus’ impact. Stocks surged on Monday over hopes that central banks will help shield the global economy. That followed a broad sell-off last week that erased gains for 2020 and sent indexes into what market watchers call a "correction," or a fall of 10% or more from a peak.

Several companies reported earnings as the latest round of quarterly reports nears its end. Kohl’s edged higher after it raised its dividend following a surprisingly good fourth quarter. Auto parts retailer AutoZone slipped after reporting a surprising drop for a key sales measure.