Stocks, oil plunge as Trump travel ban fans recession fears

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The US ban on air travel from mainland Europe ordered by US President Donald Trump is a hammer blow to markets as it will further depress economic activity and demand for oil

Global stock markets and oil prices plunged Thursday after President Donald Trump banned all travel from mainland Europe to the United States for a month to fight the coronavirus pandemic, ramping up fears of worldwide recession.

As panic raged and billions more dollars were wiped from companies' valuations, the head of the World Health Organization said the COVID-19 outbreak "is a controllable pandemic" if countries stepped up measures to tackle it.

"We are deeply concerned that some countries are not approaching this threat with the level of political commitment needed to control it," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told diplomats in Geneva, according to a statement.

Following an overnight slump, Sydney tumbled 7.4 percent Thursday to suffer its worst session since the 2008 global financial crisis.

Tokyo closed down 4.4 percent, putting it in a bear market after slumping more than 20 percent from a recent high.

Hong Kong shed 3.7 percent, though Shanghai was off 1.5 percent as China continues to see infection rates slow.

Manila crashed nearly 10 percent -- sparking a brief trading halt -- after it emerged Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte would undergo a precautionary test for the virus.

In the Gulf, Saudi dumped 4.0 percent in value, Dubai tumbled 6.0 percent and Qatar shed 5.2 percent.

The carnage on stock markets spread to Europe, with London, Frankfurt and Paris all losing almost six percent approaching the half-way mark.

"Taking the view that the president's travel ban has only further heightened the likelihood of a global recession... investors fled," said Connor Campbell, market analyst at Spreadex trading group.

Eyes were on the European Central Bank, which is under pressure at its policy meeting Thursday to show it too has the firepower to respond to the coronavirus crisis and shore up the eurozone economy after other major central banks have already leapt into the breach.

The Japanese yen, a key haven in times of crisis, jumped more than one percent against the dollar.

- Massive negative signal -

"Travel restrictions equal slower global economic activity, so if you need any more coaxing to sell... after a massively negative signal from trading in US markets it just fell in your lap," said AxiCorp's Stephen Innes.

The coronavirus outbreak has left virtually no sector untouched, though travel and tourism have been particularly hard-hit as countries institute travel bans and quarantine requirements, with Italy in a country-wide lockdown.

The number of cases across the globe has risen to more than 126,000 with 4,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In announcing the Europe ban -- which excludes Britain -- Trump said the continent had seen a surge in new cases because governments failed to stop travel from China, where the COVID-19 epidemic began.

He said the prohibitions would also "apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo", and "various other things as we get approval".

However, the White House afterwards clarified that "the people transporting goods will not be admitted into the country, but the goods will be".

The EU meanwhile slammed the US on Thursday for 'unilaterally' imposing a travel ban.

- Oil slide -

Elsewhere Thursday, oil prices were hammered, with benchmark Brent North Sea crude losing more than seven percent, as the travel restrictions will further dampen energy demand.

"We are now staring at the whole world going into a lockdown," Vandana Hari, of Vanda Insights, said. "Oil demand can be expected to crash through the floor and all previous projections on oil consumption are now out the door."

The oil market was already under pressure after Saudi Arabia and Gulf partner UAE stepped up a price war on Wednesday by unveiling plans to flood global markets.

The Saudi move was the latest escalation of a fight among oil producers after Russia balked at an OPEC-backed plan to cut production in response to lost demand because of the coronavirus.

- Key figures around 1115 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 5.5 percent at 5,555.94 points

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 5.8 percent at 9,829.56

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 5.5 percent at 4,356.09

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 5.6 percent at 2,743.76

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 4.4 percent at 18,559.63 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 3.7 percent at 24,309.07 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 1.5 percent at 2,923.49 (close)

New York - Dow: DOWN 5.9 percent at 23,553.22 (close)

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 7.1 percent at $33.24 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 5.5 percent at $31.16 per barrel

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 103.75 yen from 104.54 yen at 2100 GMT

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1236 from $1.1276

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2745 from $1.2825

Euro/pound: UP at 88.15 pence from 87.91 pence

The US ban on air travel from mainland Europe ordered by US President Donald Trump is a hammer blow to markets as it will further depress economic activity and demand for oil

The sharp drops provoke disbelief and dismay among investors

Countries and territories with new cases of the coronavirus as of March 12 at 0900 GMT, plus numbers of cases and deaths per day since Feb 2