Stocks, oil prices plunge as virus closes sites around world

The world’s largest economies delivered more worrisome cues Monday as anxiety over the virus outbreak sent stock and oil prices plunging and closed sites from the Sistine Chapel to Saudi Arabian schools.

Stock markets in the energy-rich Gulf states nosedived at the start of trading Monday after oil prices crashed amid a price war after oil producers failed to reach agreement. Kuwait's Premier index tumbled 9.5% and trading was temporarily suspended, while the All-Shares Index lost 8.7%. Dubai Financial Market dropped 9.0% to its worst level in seven years but authorities suspended trading in most leading stocks after slumping the maximum daily limit of 10%. Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange shed 7.7% to a four-year low, while the Qatar Stock Exchange was down 8.2%. The tiny bourses of Oman and Bahrain dipped 3.3% and 3.0%, respectively. The seven bourses were battered on Sunday, the first trading day of the week, shedding tens of billions of dollars from their values, with Saudi Arabia, the leading bourse in the region, tumbling by 8.3%.

Oil prices crashed at the opening on Monday with the benchmark Brent crude diving to $33 a barrel. The crash in oil, the mainstay of public revenues in the region, added to the panic that the ongoing price war may continue for a long time.

As the deadly coronavirus disease claims more lives around the world, dealers are fleeing out of riskier assets and into safe havens, sending gold and the yen surging and pushing US Treasury yields to new record lows.

In Italy, the government took a page from China’s playbook, issuing a quarantine order attempting to lock down 16 million people across a swath of the country’s north. Italy’s financial hub of Milan and its popular tourist city of Venice were among the places under the order, and across the country, museums and archaeological sites were closed, weddings were canceled, and restaurants were told to keep patrons a meter apart. The country has counted 7,375 cases of COVID-19.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass by himself Monday at the Vatican hotel where he lives, but resumed some meetings.

Countries around the world showed a willingness to take tough steps to try to stop the virus’ spread.

The Czech Republic said Monday that visits to hospitals and retirement homes were banned and random checks would begin of vehicles arriving at border crossings, including taking the temperature of occupants.

Trading on US stock exchanges was halted immediately after opening on Monday, as the S&P 500 fell 7%, triggering an automatic 15 minute cutout put in place after the 2008-9 financial crisis.

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