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More steep losses

US jobs growth fails to halt freefall on stock markets.

City of London

Markets are suffering big falls

Stock markets continued to slide and offices emptied as the coronavirus spread fear among businesses and a second fatality was confirmed n the UK.

The FTSE 100 plunged 242.88 points or 3.62% to close at 6462.55, echoing big falls in other global indices.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 256.5 points, or 0.98%, the S&P 500 lost 1.71%, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 1.87%. However, for the week, the S&P 500 gained 0.6%, the Dow added 1.8% and the Nasdaq rose 0.1%.

Earier, the Japanese market dropped to a six-month low while some companies in Europe have seen huge losses in value. All but 3% of shares on the Tokyo exchange’s main board were in the red.

Airline and travel stocks have been among the worst affected as people cancel non-essential travel. Norwegian Air Shuttle was the hardest-hit stock among European carriers, falling almost 70% since the start of February. Air France KLM, which owns the French and Dutch flag carriers, fell 14.6%.

In London,  EasyJet, Tui and British Airways owner IAG, each fell more than 4%, amid speculation that another airline could the next casualty after Flybe which collapsed yesterday.

The Canary Wharf district was unusually quiet. S&P Global’s large office stood empty after the company sent its 1,200 staff home, while HSBC asked around 100 people to work from home after a worker tested positive for the illness.

Big corporations such as Facebook, JP Morgan and Microsoft have sent people home in New York and Seattle. Samsung will temporarily move some of its smartphone production from Korea to Vietnam.

Brent crude was down 6%, at about $47 per barrel on Friday, below $50 for the first time since 2017.

Earlier this week, the Federal Reserve, the US’s central bank, cut its benchmark interest rate by 0.5 percentage points to a range of 1% to 1.25% in an attempt to ease investor concerns.

Many analysts predict it will cut rates again – perhaps as soon as this month.

The setback to trade came as the US reported stellar growth in jobs last month. US employers added 273,000 jobs in February – significantly beating expectations – while the jobless rate fell back to near a 50-year low of 3.5%.

Ulas Akincilar, head of trading at the online trading platform, Infinox. said: “Coronavirus fears may have infected US equities, but America’s booming jobs market has posted a spotlessly clean bill of health.

“At any other time, such a barnstorming jobs report would have unleashed the bulls. Well over a quarter of a million jobs – more than 100,000 more than expected – were created in February.”

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