The causes of the Great Recession are rarely debated. Illustration: iStock
Illustration: iStock

The Dow finished sharply lower Tuesday as it suffered its worst quarterly loss since 1987 amid a broader market rout over the coronavirus outbreak.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the session at 21,917.16, down more than 400 points. 

The blue-chip index lost more than 23% during the quarter as the US shut major parts of its economy in response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

The broad-based S&P 500 shed 1.6% to 2,584.59, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index shed 1.0% to 7,700.10. Both also notched sizable losses for the quarter.

The pullback reflects the hit from unprecedented government mandates to shut down activity as the US joined the wave of countries employing social distancing measures to try to stem the growth of the deadly virus.

Public health experts say there are signs the restrictions are beginning to limit the growth of the outbreak in some places, but the shutdowns are now widely expected to push the US economy into a recession.

The Conference Board reported that consumer confidence sunk to 120 in March from 132.6 in February, as the view of the near-term outlook worsened significantly.

However, the survey is probably too optimistic since the cutoff date for survey responses was March 18, before many of the most severe restrictions were employed across the country.

“Either households are delusional or we will have to wait another month to find out what is the true state consumer confidence.” said economist Joel Naroff.

For confidence to return, “the end of the pandemic needs to be in sight. How long it will take to get to that point is anyone’s guess.”

Some analysts think the market may have adapted to the current state of play and that stocks may have bottomed out because aggressive fiscal spending and central bank interventions will limit the economic hit.

But others suspect the market could encounter further panic as it receives more data outlining the economic carnage, especially if the virus continues to spread rapidly.