Hopes rise for Bank of England coronavirus intervention

Speculation is mounting that Mark Carney will use his final week as governor of the Bank of England to announce a dramatic package of support for the British economy to help it through the coronavirus outbreak.

City traders believe Threadneedle Street could announce an immediate cut in interest rates, and ease borrowing conditions for high street banks, to coincide with Rishi Sunak’s budget on Wednesday, as part of a concerted effort to help households and businesses amid the unfolding economic crisis.

Previous stock market lows

28 October 1929 The original Black Monday. The Dow plunged 13%, then a record, as the Great Wall Street Crash ended the bull market of the 1920s.

29 October 1929 The Dow plunged 12% amid a second day of panic selling, wiping out investors who had borrowed money to buy stocks.

19 October 1987 Wall Street’s worst day ever saw 22.6% wiped off the Dow, sparked by worries about the US economy and fuelled by new automatic trading programmes.

14 April 2000 The Nasdaq index plunged by 9% as the dotcom bubble burst, sending tech stocks down 25% in a single week.

17 September 2001 After 9/11, ​Wall Street remained closed until 17 September 2001, the longest shutdown since 1933. The Dow fell 7.1% or 685 points on that first trading day, with airlines and insurers leading the rout.​and there were more steep losses in the days that followed. Among the biggest fallers were companies in the airline and insurance sectors.​

15 July 2002 The FTSE 100 tumbled 5.4%, its worst daily loss during a poor year dominated by fears of war on Iraq, tensions in North Korea, and economic stagnation

10 October 2008 The collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 triggered an autumn of wild plunges, with Britain’s FTSE 100 shedding 8.8% in a single session​, its worst day after the 1987 crash.​

22 September 2011 The FTSE 100 fell 4.6% as markets wobbled during the summer, hit by fears of a new global recession and the Greek debt crisis.

24 August 2015 The FTSE fell 4.7% or 289 points, wiping more than £70bn off the value of London-listed companies, amid a wider global sell-off, prompted by fears about the health of China’s economy.

9 March 2020 Fears of a global recession triggered by the coronavirus, and the launch of an oil price war, hit global markets. The FTSE 100 plunged 7.7% , pushing it into an official bear market.

Economists expect the Bank will cut interest rates by as much as 50 basis points to 0.25%, taking borrowing costs back down to the lowest level in the central bank’s 325-year history.

Hopes for a coordinated Bank-Treasury double act came as an early rally in share prices fizzled out after the biggest rout in global markets since the 2008 financial crisis on Monday.

The pound fell by two cents against the dollar as the US currency rallied amid speculation that the White House would unveil emergency stimulus to shore-up confidence in the world’s largest economy.

The FTSE 100 had initially rallied by about 3.5% in early trading on Tuesday, as shares fought back from the steepest losses sustained since the weeks after Lehman Brothers’ collapse.

However, the index of leading UK company shares later surrendered the gains to end the day back in the red, sliding by five points to 5,960.

With rising expectations for intervention designed to offset the worst of the economic fallout from the spread of the disease, the Trump administration announced that US health insurers had agreed to extend coronavirus treatment coverage in their benefit plans and waive fees charged for tests for the disease.

However, the president attacked the US Federal Reserve on Twitter for a “pathetic, slow moving” response. He tweeted: “The Federal Reserve must be a leader, not a very late follower, which it has been!”

The Fed was the first big central bank to cut rates at an emergency meeting last week, although further cuts are expected.

Analysts also expect the European Central Bank to cut rates and announce measures to bolster bank lending across the eurozone when its governing council meets on Thursday.

Amid increasing concern as the global death toll climbs, City banks including Barclays, Nomura and ING said a swift response in the UK spearheaded by Carney and Sunak was increasingly likely.

Carney is to stand down on Sunday to be replaced by Andrew Bailey the following day.

Carney and Bailey revealed last week that the Bank was holding talks with Sunak to develop a “powerful and timely” coordinated response between Threadneedle Street and No 11.

Speaking to MPs on the Treasury committee, Carney dropped the broadest possible hint that rates could be cut soon, saying “all necessary steps to support the UK economy and the financial system” would be taken.

As well as the rate cut, Threadneedle Street is also expected to relax the amount of capital high street banks must hold in an effort to encourage them to lend to consumers and businesses, helping them to stay afloat.

Similar measures were used after the shock Brexit vote to release £150bn worth of additional lending.

Countries and companies are strengthening their efforts to contain the economic fallout as the death toll exceeded 4,000, out of more than 116,000 infections worldwide.

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, announced an ¥430bn (£3.2bn) funding package to help businesses affected by the outbreak.

Companies across Britain also continued to spell out the impact the outbreak was having on their businesses.

Halifax, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender, said it was shutting a call centre in Belfast employing 1,000 people after one employee tested positive.

Meanwhile Informa, the world’s biggest exhibition and events organiser, said it had cancelled 130 events worldwide and would lose more than £400m in revenue.

The furniture retailer DFS said it had noted an abrupt decline in shopper numbers since last week and that more than £200m of sales it would normally expect to make in the run-up to Easter were at risk.

Safestay, which operates hostels across Europe, told the stock exchange it was facing “a material downturn” in bookings as travellers abandoned plans.

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