Why President Donald Trump's Speech Spooked the Stock Market

The market wanted to hear solutions for the current crisis. It didn’t get any.

The market wanted to hear solutions for the current crisis. It didn’t get any.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank into a bear market yesterday, but only just. And with President Donald Trump addressing the nation Wednesday night, there was still a chance that it would be a short-lived one. In fact, the market was betting on it: Dow futures were up around 300 points before the president’s address began.

And then the president started talking—and futures started falling. By the time Trump was finished, Dow futures were down more than 1,000 points, and any chance of a quick reversal of the bear market had faded.

The Dow fell even more during the day, as the ECB’s Christine Lagarde added fuel to the fire by saying that the central bank was “not here to close spreads,” and has since rallied after the Federal Reserve said it would provide even more money to the repo markets.

So what did Trump say, or not say, that spooked the market? In a nutshell, it appears that he acknowledged the seriousness of coronavirus by banning flights to and from Europe and encouraging Americans to be vigilant in combating the illness—necessary but economically damaging, nonetheless—without providing a plan to compensate for the economic hit. “Following the disaster speech last night (restrictions increasing around the world, European travel ban, everything canceled, but no fiscal offsets), markets are searching for clearing price,” writes Evercore ISI strategist Denniss DeBusschere.

What he means is this: We know the economy is taking a big hit. There will be little to no travel, no basketball games, people will stop going out to eat and to see movies. The economy, or a big chunk of it, is simply going to grind to a near-halt. But it’s not forever. Former FDA head Scott Gottlieb laid out on CNBC two ways this plays out: Either we do nothing and the disease runs through the country in a month, but overwhelms the health system, or we take steps, which prolongs the outbreak to six to eight weeks, but will have less severe outcomes in health terms. “The markets act like this is an infinite bottomless spiral that will go on for quarters and quarters,” writes Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont. “Someone who knows far better than me just said that this is probably a March and April issue.”

But not if companies go bankrupt over those two months. What the market wanted to hear was a solution to that problem, or at least the start of a solution. And until it does, some analysts don’t expect it to find a bottom. “We expect markets to remain volatile until we see some combination of: 1) evidence of successful virus containment; 2) clarity on the net economic impact; and 3) a concerted global policy response,” writes Mark Haefele, chief investment officer for global wealth management at UBS.

In a tweet this morning, former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein put in more clearly: “[At] this point, go all-in on social separation, and all-in on financial relief to those most economically vulnerable (individuals and sm biz). Save the second guessing for later. I would welcome if we look back 3 months from now and think we over-reacted.”

Investors haven’t seen enough of that right now, and the markets reflect that. But with the Fed doing it’s thing, maybe it’s starting to.

Write to Ben Levisohn at

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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