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  • Charted: The Impact of COVID-19 on the World's Major Stock Indexes

Charted: The Impact of COVID-19 on the World's Major Stock Indexes

The coronavirus is officially in all 50 states. Almost 2,000 people in New York City are now confirmed to have the virus. The entire San Francisco Bay Area is sheltering in place. Schools and businesses are closing around the country while Congress debates a $1 trillion stimulus package. All of this is having a direct impact on stock markets, but we wanted to understand more about the timing. How have specific key events impacted stock markets?

Impact of COVID-19 on the World's Major Stock Indexes

  • Stock markets around the world are seeing substantial declines year-to-date. Most indexes are down by over -20%.
  • U.S. and European markets were relatively late to appreciate the severity of the coronavirus. U.S. stocks actually increased in value throughout early February even as the virus was spreading throughout the country.
  • The first American died from the coronavirus on February 29. U.S. stock markets shortly thereafter started to experience the most significant turmoil since the Great Recession, crashing so hard as to trip the circuit breakers and automatically halt trading.
  • Asian markets were the earliest to react to the coronavirus, declining throughout late January as the Chinese government prolonged the Lunar New Year. Stocks are down throughout Asia, including only -8.55% for the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

We gathered the daily percentage changes for each stock market index in our visualizations from Investing.com. We plotted the closing value for American, European and Asian indexes for each trading day, substituting a dotted line to indicate where trading was suspended (like in Asia). We then inserted a narrative of critical events in the spread of the coronavirus, as defined by CNN and the WHO. The three resulting visualizations allow you to easily see how, when and why stock markets around the world first started to experience so much turmoil.

The major takeaway from our visualizations is simple. World markets were late to appreciate the threat of the coronavirus to the economy. American stock markets actually rose throughout the first several weeks of the year, peaking around late February just after the WHO named the new virus COVID-19. The virus had already been found in the U.S. weeks earlier. Even as Chinese patients started dying from the virus, American stock markets continued to rise. American indexes are now down between -23% to -31.25% year-to-date, with many analysts predicating even more declines.

Impact of COVID-19 on the World's Major Stock Indexes

The track record for European markets is similar to the U.S. The coronavirus had no impact throughout the entire month of January and the first half of February. By March 9, Prime Minister Conte of Italy had announced a sweeping lockdown of the entire country. By that time, Western democracies finally seemed to understand how they needed to take actions curbing the movement of people not seen since World War II. In fact, Europe had the top 10 biggest single-day drops year-to-date for any index in our analysis. European markets are now off over -30% since the start of the year.

Impact of COVID-19 on the World's Major Stock Indexes

Asian markets represent something of a paradox. On the one hand, they started declining much earlier than in Europe or the U.S. The Chinese government cancelled Lunar New Year celebrations on January 23, and even extended the holiday to prevent people from returning to work and spreading the virus. On the other hand, the Shanghai Stock Exchange recently finished only down -8.55% year-to-date. In short, the markets closest to the epicenter of the virus haven’t reacted as severely as in the U.S. or Europe.

Of course, the coronavirus isn’t the only major international story depressing stock values. Most notably, just as the world was realizing how significant COVID-19 will be for the economy, Russia and Saudi Arabia embarked on a major oil price war. Moscow and Riyadh couldn’t agree on a price floor for a barrel of oil, so they both decided to flood the market, causing the price to tank. At the same time, the coronavirus caused much of the world’s economy to grind to a halt, severely depressing demand. Gasoline could even drop below $1 a gallon soon.

Stock market prices are one indication for how an economy is performing. The recent market turbulence suggests the world is heading into a deep recession. The struggle to combat the coronavirus is very real and ongoing. 

Want to take action right now against the coronavirus? Donate to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

About the article


Juan Carlos