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Stocks tumble, on pace for worst week since financial crisis

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 (CNN) -- US stocks tumbled once again on Friday, as coronavirus fears continue to mount. Equities are on track for their worst week since the financial crisis.

Stocks opened sharply lower and extended their losses in the first hour of trading before regaining some lost ground around midday.

The Dow fell nearly 1,086 points at its low-point. It was down 980 points, or 3.8%, in the afternoon -- its seventh-straight day in the red. The index dropped 3,226 points in the first four days of the week, including its worst one-day point drop in history on Thursday. On a percentage basis, Thursday's 4.4% slump was the worst performance since February 2018.

The S&P 500, the broadest measure of the stock market, fell 3.2%.

The Nasdaq Composite briefly turned positive around midday, but it was down 2.6% in the afternoon.

Market participants are closely watching whether stocks will again end the day sharply lower. If investors are willing to hold their positions over the weekend, it could imply more fear and further selloffs next week.

All three stock benchmarks are on track for their worst week since October 2008. The Dow is also on track for its worst month since October 2008, while the S&P 500 is also pacing for its worst month since February 2009.

Coronavirus fears have also clobbered the energy market as investors brace for a collapse in demand for everything from jet fuel to diesel and motor gasoline. Decreased factory activity in China, where businesses shut to contain the outbreak, is also weighing on prices.

Crude oil, which is often viewed as a real-time barometer of economic growth, has plunged deeper into a bear market. US oil plunged around 5% on Friday to $44.75 a barrel. Crude hasn't closed below $46 since December 2018. The commodity is on track for its sharpest weekly decline since 2011.

Gold, which is traditionally a safe haven during times of market trouble, sold off too. Market participants attribute the drop to investors pulling cash out of their gold investments to counter their losing stock investments. Gold futures fell 4.3% to 1,570.30 an ounce and are on track for their worst one-day percentage loss since 2013.

Treasury yields slipped further on Friday as investors piled into the safe haven government bonds. Bond yields and prices move opposite to each other. The 10-year bond yield dropped below 1.17%.

The Federal Reserve is in focus on Friday, after expectations for an interest rate cut at the March 18 meeting spiked to 100%, according to the CME FedWatch Tool. Expectations for a half-percentage-point cut have shot higher over night and are now at 43%. They were at zero on Thursday.

But the speculation about a rate cut also implies that the economy could be worse off than widely believed.

"If the Fed need to intervene, how bad is the situation?" said David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets.

That said, various Fed officials have so far said rate cuts are not yet necessary.

"Further policy rate cuts are a possibility if a global pandemic actually develops with health effects approaching the scale of ordinary influenza, but this is not the baseline case at this time," said St. Louis Fed President James Bullard in a speech Friday.

The University of Michigan, which publishes the monthly consumer sentiment survey, warned on Friday that "domestic spread of the virus could have a significant impact on consumer spending."

While the final read of February consumer sentiment beat expectations and rose to the highest level since March 2018, an increasing number of survey participants mentions the virus outbreak in the last days of February. Consumers are the backbone of the US economy and a drop in spending could hurt economic growth.

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread around the world, countries are scrambling to respond. Economists and investors are concerned about the outbreak's impact on economic growth and corporate earnings. Various American multinational companies, including Apple and Microsoft, have warned that they won't meet their earnings guidance because of disruptions from the virus.

Article Topic Follows: National & World

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