US stocks plunged Wednesday — with the drop accelerating after President Donald Trump’s midday briefing on the government’s response to coronavirus outbreak failed to calm investors and led to a temporary halt in trading. Continuing a series of trading sessions characterised by unprecedented market volatility, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1,335 points, or 6.3 per cent, closing at 19,902.35. The S&P 500 fell 5.2 per cent and the Nasdaq composite index slid 4.7 per cent. Stocks opened sharply lower but were trying to claw back some of those losses when Trump took part in the daily briefing by the White House’s coronavirus task force; by its end, stocks resumed their plunge, triggering the “circuit breaker” just before 1pm in New York. The 15-minute break is intended to limit a market free fall. It was the fourth session in less than two weeks that trading was halted. After trading was resumed, the frantic sell-off continued, and erased the gains the Dow had made since Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017 — when it closed at 19,827.25 — before closing slightly higher. It was the Dow’s first close under 20,000 points since February 2017. The drops more than wiped out gains made on Tuesday, when the Dow rose more than 1,000 points after the Trump administration proposed a stimulus package aiming to stabilise the US economy. Wednesday became the eighth straight trading session that saw the S&P 500 swing 4 per cent or more in either direction. The government “is moving in the right direction. But it’s still not enough,” said Alon Ozer, chief investment officer of Omnia Family Wealth, a wealth manager based in Aventura, Florida, that manages around US$2 billion. “We are still so much behind [other countries] in terms of controlling the outbreak.” Defying Beijing, Trump doubles down on use of ‘Chinese virus’ label In an unusual tandem, the stock drops were accompanied by a similar fall in long-term government bonds and gold – signalling an investor exodus from the markets across the board. Investors typically crowd into such safe-haven assets during times of uncertainty. But concerns have risen as governments make plans to issue substantial amounts of long-term debt as part of stimulus packages intended to combat the economic turmoil. The Trump administration said on Tuesday said it was proposing a massive stimulus plan that could pour US$1 trillion into the US economy. The package would be mostly focused on adding liquidity to the economy, including cash payments to Americans and financial relief to small businesses and sectors like the airline industry. that have been hammered by the outbreak. “Unfortunately I don’t think the worst is behind us. At this point, it’s very hard to quantify where we are,” said Ozer. Asian markets revert to declines as buzz from cash handouts gives way to pessimism The poor US showing followed falls in European bourses as investors questioned whether measures taken by governments would be enough and fretted over the prospect of a global recession. Earlier it had been a similar pattern in the Asia-Pacific, as markets tumbled on pessimism about the spreading coronavirus, with Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia leading losses. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 4.2 per cent, or 971.91 points, to 22,291.82, with 49 of the 50 constituent members declining. This was the fourth time this year the index has dropped more than 900 points. The Shanghai Composite Index closed with a 1.8 per cent loss, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was the biggest regional loser with a 6.4 per cent tumble. South Korea’s Kospi slid 4.9 per cent. “It is hard to know when the sell-off will end,” said Alan Li, portfolio manager at Atta Capital. “Traders still tend to sell on rebounds to enhance their cash levels. If policies to fight the virus work, new infected cases may peak out in the next two weeks. Markets will keep an eye on the effectiveness” of policies, like border and air traffic restrictions, closures, quarantines and discouragement of large gatherings, he said.