Dow closes out the worst first quarter in history: March 31, 2020

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3:47 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Oil suffers worst month since... ever

March was an absolute nightmare for the oil industry.

US oil prices crashed 54% in the month, touching levels unseen in 18 years.

That makes March, by far, the worst month since oil futures started trading on NYMEX in 1983.

The next closest, according to Refinitiv, was October 2008 when crude collapsed by 33% during the height of the financial crisis.

Brent crude, the world benchmark, similarly plunged 55% this March. That's the worst on record going back to 1988.

The oil nightmare was brought on by a double whammy: shrinking demand and swelling supply.

The unprecedented drop in demand caused by coronavirus-related travel restrictions was the biggest negative for oil, which has lost two-thirds of its value since early January.

But the pain was exacerbated by the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which has flooded the market with excess supply.

Gas prices have already plunged below $2 a gallon on average in the United States -- and more declines are likely. Too bad most Americans are living under lockdown orders that prevent them from taking advantage of the cheap gas.

3:10 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Streaming viewership has doubled since last year

If you feel like you've been watching more Netflix and Hulu since being stuck at home, you're probably right.

The measurement company Nielsen released data regarding the coronavirus' impact on streaming viewership on Tuesday. Unsurprisingly, it's way up over last year.

During the week of March 16, consumers watched more than 156 billion minutes of content via streaming. That's up from 115 billion minutes during the week of February 24 and it's more than double the comparable week from last year, according to Nielsen.

AT&T also released some data on how people are staying connected during the pandemic.

The company, which is also the parent of CNN, said on Tuesday that voice calls are up 33% and text messaging is up 41% the last three weeks on its mobile network.

1:53 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Stocks turn red

US stocks have fallen back into negative territory in the early afternoon, having spent much of the morning in the green. The three major indexes initially opened lower this morning.

3:18 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

China stocks pop, but is the worst really over?

A key part of China's economy -- its manufacturing sector -- roared back to life in March following a slump earlier this year due to the Covid-19 outbreak. But investors seem to be betting that Chinese consumers are recovering as well.

The US-listed shares of Chinese coffee chain Luckin (LK) -- a homegrown rival to Starbucks (SBUX) -- soared 7% Tuesday on no company specific news.

Several other big Chinese companies with ties to the consumer were also rallying on Wall Street -- even as the broader US market fell a bit.

E-commerce king Alibaba (BABA) was up 2%. Search engine Baidu (BIDU), which is often referred to as China's Google, rallied more than 4%.

And Tencent Music Group (TME), the streaming platform backed by the Chinese conglomerate Tencent and music service Spotify (SPOT), rose nearly 6%.

Luckin, Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent Music are still in the red for the year but all four of them are well off their 52-week lows. So if this recent rebound is any indication of what's to come for blue chip American consumer and tech stocks, there is at least some hope on the horizon for investors.

12:53 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

JCPenney furloughs a majority of its hourly employees

JCPenney (JCP) is the latest major retailer to furlough thousands of employees, joining Macy's, Kohl's and the Gap.

The department store said that it has made the "difficult decision to temporarily furlough the majority of store hourly associates." JCPenney also said that a "significant portion" of its corporate employees will also be placed on leave. The company had about 90,000 employees as of February 1.

Affected employees will continue to receive the company-provided healthcare.

At JCPenney, we are making tough, prudent decisions to protect both the safety of our associates and the future of our company," CEO Jill Soltau said.

The company also said its stores remained closed. However, its website is still operational for orders.

1:13 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Don't be fooled, hiring in America is way down

Companies like Walmart (WMT) and Domino's (DPZ) are hiring workers to meet increasing demand for such retail and food delivery jobs amid the coronavirus outbreak. This is helping some Americans who may have just lost their jobs as more and more employers shut down to limit their losses as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread.

On the whole, however, US companies are hiring at far lower numbers.

Job openings across the country are down 8.8% week-over-week from March 16, according to data from career website Glassdoor.

In particular, openings in consumer services, good services and manufacturing jobs have dropped as companies close in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Workers are being squeezed by a one-two punch of less hiring and more layoffs.

Health care and hospital jobs are, meanwhile, up.

As the coronavirus outbreak escalates, so does its impact on the labor market," said Glassdoor's senior economist Daniel Zhao. "This is only the beginning, however. As the economic impact of the outbreak deepens, the job market will worsen before things can get better.”

Compared to last year, job opening are still higher "due to a strong economic buffer in early 2020," the Glassdoor data shows.

12:09 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Stocks hold on to modest gains at midday

US stocks remain in modestly positive territory around midday.

The three indexes started the day slightly lower, but turned green throughout the morning.

3:12 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

The Dow is on track for its worst first quarter ever

It's the last trading day of the month and the first quarter and stocks are up mid-morning.

After opening modestly lower, the major US indexes have recovered and are back in the green. The Dow is up 0.5%, or about 100 points, while the broader S&P 500 is up 0.3%. The Nasdaq Composite is up 1.2%.

But after weeks of deep selloffs the Dow looks all but certain to close as the index's worst first quarter ever, its weakest overall quarterly performance since 1987 and the ninth worst quarter in history.

In short: the past three months have been horrendous for investors.

And it's not just the Dow. The S&P -- Wall Street's broadest measure -- is shaping up to have its worst quarter since the final three months of 2008.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq, which is the youngest of the three benchmarks, is on track for its worst quarter since the fourth quarter of 2018.

11:08 a.m. ET, March 31, 2020

It's extremely rare over the last 75 years for oil to be as cheap as it is today

The oil crash has left crude sitting at 18-year lows.

US oil prices have collapsed by more than two-thirds since early January, sinking to just $20 a barrel on Monday.

The magnitude of the crash is even more startling when inflation is taken into account.

On an inflation-adjusted basis, oil has been more expensive than today 98% of the time over the last 75 years, according to a report by Andres Garcia-Amaya, CEO of Zoe Financial.

The stunning selloff is being driven by the combination of shrinking demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic and intentionally-high supply from Saudi Arabia and Russia.

"This is truly the perfect storm," Garcia said.