By Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – As Wall Street suffered its worst one-day rout in three decades on Monday, financial professionals managed the historic selloff with the added distraction of children needing lunch and dogs barking to be let out.
The S&P 500 tumbled 12% in its worst one-day drop since October 1987, just as growing numbers of investors began to work from home to slow the spread of the coronavirus that is already widely expected to throw the U.S. economy into a downturn.
Investors juggled emergency conference calls with domestic duties as schools across the country closed to avoid spreading the virus.
Goldman Sachs (N:) and Morgan Stanley (N:) announced programs last week for working remotely to stem the spread of the disease. Several banks have banned travel and taken other measures after cases of coronavirus were detected at firms including Barclays (L:), BlackRock Inc (N:), Citigroup Inc (N:) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:).
Trip Miller, a managing partner of Gullane Capital Partners, spent much of the day at his dining room table in Memphis, Tennessee, where he talked, emailed and texted with colleagues and investors as they monitored the rapid selloff and their portfolio of about 16 long positions and a similar number of shorts.
“Meanwhile, I had a four-year-old and a seven-year-old asking me to cut their pizza,” Miller joked, adding he does not expect the market to improve until the coronavirus outbreak shows signs of containment.
The latest tumble on the U.S. stock market was despite the Federal Reserve’s surprise move late Sunday to cut interest rates to near zero, its second emergency cut in less than two weeks as it struggles to defend the longest U.S. economic expansion on record, now in its 11th year.
“We are in full panic mode. Until comfort returns, panic kind of dies down, I think we are going to continue to have big moves,” warned Jim Paulsen, chief financial strategist at the Leuthold Group in Minneapolis.
Monday’s historic drop followed a 9.3% surge on Friday and a 9.5% plunge on Thursday. Overall, the S&P 500 has plummeted nearly 30% from its record high on Feb. 19, and many investors are reluctant to predict when the selling will end.
Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial (NYSE:) in Newark, New Jersey, said that while she often works from home she missed being among her colleagues during Monday’s market carnage.
“In all the downturns I’ve experienced, there has always been something comforting about being physically there with your colleagues, commiserating and coming up with a solution,” Krosby said. “You can’t make that artificially, it has to be real.”
Lance Pan, director of investment research and strategy at Capital Advisors Group in Newton, Mass, said the Fed was right to take decisive action, even if the market appeared unimpressed. He added that working from home may also be hampering some investors.
“Traders, even though they talk to each other, they may not see the body language. They have kids with them. I definitely think working from home, the isolation factor, does play into market liquidity,” Pan said.
Cresset Wealth Advisors Chief Investment Officer Jack Ablin, in Palm Beach, Florida, spent much of the day looking into what to eventually buy, once the market stabilizes.
“My team was on calls for about four hours today and the only hardship was hearing dogs barking in the background,” Ablin said.