Coronavirus fears continue to grip stocks: March 18, 2020

By CNN Business

Updated 12:42 PM ET, Thu March 19, 2020
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2:00 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Stock trading resumes

From CNN Business' Anneken Tappe

Stocks resumed trading at 1:11pm ET, after the New York Stock Exchange halted activity following a 7% drop in the S&P 500.

  • The S&P was down 7.2% upon the reopen.
  • The Dow fell 8.1%, or 1,710 points.
  • The Nasdaq Composite was down 6.5%.
1:18 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Walmart at record high after analyst upgrades stock

From CNN Business' Paul R. La Monica

Many Americans are being forced to stay home due to the coronavirus outbreak. But they're continuing to shop -- on their laptops and smartphones -- for all their daily necessities. That could actually help Walmart (WMT).

Shares of Walmart rose nearly 6% Wednesday -- even as the broader market plunged again -- and hit a new all-time high. The catalyst? Credit Suisse analyst Seth Sigman upgraded the stock to "outperform," saying Walmart will be one of the major beneficiaries of a shift to more people buying goods from home.

"We see this unfortunate period accelerating structural changes in consumer shopping," Sigman wrote in a report.

More people will be willing to shop for groceries (a big product category at Walmart) online, he added. Walmart has spent billions to boost its digital efforts in order to compete more effectively with Amazon (AMZN).

Walmart often holds up better during economic rough patches because its discount model attracts more budget-conscious shoppers. But Sigman said Walmart "is no longer just an early cycle, defensive, low-price player, as in prior cycles.... More than a short-term pantry load - expect shift to consumption at home."

Interestingly, two other consumer companies -- bleach and disinfectant wipes maker Clorox (CLX) and SPAM canned meat owner Hormel (HRL) -- also hit new all-time highs Wednesday. People are probably buying a lot of their products from Walmart as well.

2:11 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Trading halted

From CNN Business' Anneken Tappe

The New York Stock Exchange has halted stock trading for 15 minutes after the S&P 500 fell 7% on Wednesday afternoon.

2:12 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Delta says its sales will fall by $2 billion in March

From CNN Business' Jordan Valinsky

Delta's financial future is getting increasingly dire.

The airline revealed in a regulatory filing Wednesday that its revenue will decline by nearly $2 billion this month expects it to fall even further in April.

Similar to other airlines that are looking to their cut costs, Delta will reduce domestic capacity by 70% and international capacity by 80% over the next three months.

CEO Ed Bastian said that the company is having "constructive discussions" with the White House and Congress about receiving financial support.

Until then, it's enacting "cash preservation" actions including significant pay cuts among its corporate leaders, temporarily closing a majority of its Sky Clubs and reducing its fleet size by half, which amounts to more than 600 planes.

And Bastian warned employees that involuntary job losses may be necessary, even though about 10,000 employees have already taken voluntary unpaid leave.

"I know everyone is concerned about the security of your jobs and pay," he wrote. "Given the uncertainty about the duration of this crisis, we are not yet at a point to make any decisions. And those are very painful decisions to even consider."

He said Delta would only make the staff cuts if its future is at stake.

Delta's (DAL) shares are down 33% and the stock has lost 64% of its value this year.

1:18 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Crude. Keeps. Crashing.

From CNN Business' Matt Egan

The last time crude oil prices traded at these levels, President George W. Bush was in the middle of his first term in the White House.

The crude crash accelerated Wednesday afternoon, with US oil nosediving 18.5% to as low as $21.96 a barrel. Oil hit session lows just after stock market trading was halted on the New York Stock Exchange for 15 minutes.

Crude is on track to finish at the weakest level since at least February 2002. Oil continues to be rocked by shrinking demand caused by coronavirus travel restrictions and the slowing world economy.

"This continues to be a perfect storm from both a supply and demand perspective," said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData.

Instead of supporting the market by cutting production, Russia and Saudi Arabia are mired in devastating price war that will add supply at the worst possible time.

"The world's largest producers are about to flood the global market in the coming weeks, at a time when demand is cratering due to the coronavirus," Smith said.

The intensifying oil crash drove the energy sector (XLE) down a stunning 12% on Wednesday alone. Noble Energy (NBL), Diamondback Energy (FANG) and Kinder Morgan (KMI) plunged between 18% and 28%.

2:18 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

What needs to happen for these markets to move up?

From CNN Business' Anneken Tappe

Stocks have been selling off for weeks and brief rebound rallies haven't been able to lift weekly performances.

So what needs to happen for the market to improve and break this habit?

"We have not seen a positive headline yet about Corona, the numbers keep expanding," said Jonathan Corpina, senior managing partner at Meridian Equity Partners, told Alison Kosik during the CNN Business' digital live show Markets Now. "Every night, every day, it's the continual same headline, the numbers are increasing,"

As soon as there is some more clarity and some positive news in terms of combating the virus and some positive numbers pointing to a flattened curve of infections or an end to infections, the market will calm down, he said.

12:07 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Stocks remain down at midday

From CNN Business' Anneken Tappe

Stocks remain in the red at midday, with investors awaiting a White House press briefing with President Donald Trump and the coronavirus task force.

During yesterday's press briefing, stocks extended their gains.

10:54 a.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Burger King is giving away free kids' meals

From CNN Business' Jordan Valinsky

Burger King is giving away two kids' meals with any purchase made on its app beginning next week, the fast food chain confirmed to CNN Business.

Restaurant Brands International CEO Jose Cil explained in an interview that the promotion is aimed at helping school-aged kids who may be at home because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

He said that children are "one of the hardest hit groups of Americans, because they rely so significantly on school, for lunch."

Burger King is owned by RBI (QSR), which also controls Tim Hortons and Popeyes.

11:16 a.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Ikea closing US stores to prevent coronavirus spread

From CNN Business' Clare Duffy

Ikea is temporarily closing all 50 of its stores in the United States in an effort to stunt the spread of coronavirus, the company said Wednesday.

The decision comes after a March 16 announcement that the furniture retailer would be closing some US stores and reducing hours at others. And Ikea joins a growing list of retailers who have temporarily closing stores in the United States and around the world.

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures," Ikea retail US president Javier Quiñones said in a statement. "This is the most responsible way Ikea can continue to care for our co-workers and our customers in a manner that is healthy and safe."

While Ikea's stores will be closed to customers, they will still fulfill online orders and be open for online order pick up.

The company said it will continue to support its 18,000 US workers "through its comprehensive benefits package and paid leave policy."

Ikea has also announced temporary store closures in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and China. The company said that as the outbreak in China improves, it is gradually reopening stores in the country.