Local stocks collapse to below 5,800 as COVID-19 now a pandemic; triggers market halt

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The Philippine Stock Exchange crashed to a multi-year low on Thursday, settling below the 5,800 mark as fear over the novel coronavirus pandemic pulled down shares by a tenth.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 12) — Local stocks took another nosedive on Thursday morning, settling below the 6,000 level as the novel coronavirus disease is now characterized as a pandemic.

The World Health Organization made the announcement on Thursday dawn (Manila time) as the disease, officially called COVID-19, gained a foothold in every continent except Antartica. There are now more than 126,000 infected people and over 4,600 deaths worldwide due to COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins University's global tracker.

The Department of Health confirmed 16 new cases of the disease on Wednesday. This brings the total number of cases in the country to 49 as of March 11.

The benchmark Philippine Stock Exchange index tumbled by 9.71 percent to 5,736.27, diving further into bear territory. This was bigger than the plunge seen on Monday, marking the deepest decline since October 2008 or the era of the Global Financial Crisis.

The bleeding was so bad that the local bourse had to trigger 15-minute trading halt which lasted until 3:08 p.m., just minutes before the closing bell, as shares dipped by 10.33 percent to as low as 5,697.13.

The PSE said this was only the second time in history when the so-called “circuit breaker” was tapped, the first being on October 27, 2008 when the emergency tool was only a month old.

“In theory, the circuit breaker was intended to provide breathing space for traders during critical situations, such as this afternoon. It should ease some selling pressure today but unfortunately, the situation outside the market that contributed to the drop continues to unfold,” said Rens Cruz, senior equity analyst at Regina Capital.

“It might take more than a few minutes to completely curb the heavy selling in the market right now,” Cruz added, noting that the Philippines continues to report additional COVID-19 cases and there are concerns over a possible lockdown in Metro Manila or key cities hounding the public.

All indices fell for the entire trading session, with mining and oil companies hurt the most with a 12.76 percent drop. Property companies followed with a 10.82 percent crash, as well as banks and financial firms with a 10.12 percent slide.

Other stock markets in the region also slid, but the PSEi's crash is wider compared to its neighbors.

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A market analyst said the slide is "not yet over," as uncertainty and fear over the disease continued to spook market players.

"You have fear, you're now in mega fear," BDO chief market strategist Jonathan Ravelas said in an interview, pointing out that investors may have dumped local shares upon seeing a difference in the response of local authorities compared to China, the United States, and Europe in containing the disease.

"They were decisive. Their main priority was containment... They were equipped of what they wanted to do, then they had support for the markets," he added. "It's a model that could be emulated."

Ravelas said strong first-quarter earnings to be reported by companies, as well as sustained government spending on infrastructure, can help lift sentiment, alongside effective efforts to contain the spread of the disease.

He added that investors should stay "nimble," but pointed out that now is a good opportunity to enter the stock market.