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U.S. Stocks Move Sharply Lower At The Start Of Trading

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Stocks moved sharply lower at the start of trading on Wednesday, extending the pullback seen over the course of the previous session. The Dow and the S&P 500 are seeing further downside after turning in their worst first quarter performances ever.

The major averages have regained some ground since the open but remain firmly in negative territory. The Dow is down 617.34 points or 2.8 percent at 21,299.82, the Nasdaq is down 183.78 points or 2.4 percent at 7,516.31 and the S&P 500 is down 79.75 points or 3.1 percent at 2,504.84.

The initial sell-off on Wall Street came amid renewed coronavirus concerns after White House officials warned of nearly a quarter million deaths from the pandemic.

During a White House press conference on Tuesday, President Donald Trump warned the U.S. is facing a "very, very painful two weeks."

White House officials are now projecting between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the U.S. as a result of the outbreak, which Trump previously sought to downplay.

"This could be a hell of a bad two weeks. This is going to be a very bad two, and maybe three weeks. This is going to be three weeks like we've never seen before," Trump said.

The comments from the White House come as data from Johns Hopkins University shows there are nearly 190,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. and more than 4,000 deaths.

On the U.S. economic front, payroll processor ADP released a report showing a modest decrease in private sector employment in the U.S. in March, although the data does not reflect the full impact of the coronavirus-induced shutdown.

ADP said private sector employment fell by 27,000 jobs in March after jumping by a downwardly revised 179,000 jobs in February.

Economists had expected private sector employment to plunge by 150,000 jobs compared to the addition of 183,000 jobs originally reported for the previous month.

The drop was much smaller than expected but still reflects the first decrease in private sector employment since September of 2017.

ADP also noted its national employment report, or NER, only utilizes data through the 12th of the month, which is the same period the Labor Department uses for its more closely watched monthly jobs report.

"As such, the March NER does not fully reflect the most recent impact of COVID-19 on the employment situation, including unemployment claims reported on March 26, 2020," said Ahu Yildirmaz, co-head of the ADP Research Institute.

A separate report from the Institute for Supply Management showed a relatively modest contraction in U.S. manufacturing activity in the month of March.

The ISM said its purchasing managers index dipped to 49.1 in March after edging down to 50.1 in February. While a reading below 50 indicates a contraction in manufacturing activity, economists had expected the index to show a steeper drop to 45.0.

Commercial real estate stocks are turning in some of the market's worst performances in morning trading, dragging the Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate Index down by 7.9 percent.

Significant weakness has also emerged among oil service stocks, as reflected by the 5.3 percent nosedive by the Philadelphia Oil Service Index.

The weakness in the oil service sector comes amid a modest decrease by the price of crude oil, with crude for May delivery slipping $0.13 to $20.35 a barrel.

Banking, utilities, and housing stocks are also seeing considerable weakness, moving lower along with most of the other major sectors.

Meanwhile, gold stocks are among the few groups bucking the downtrend, resulting in a 1.9 percent jump by the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index.

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly lower during trading on Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index plummeted by 4.5 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index tumbled by 2.2 percent.

The major European markets have also shown significant moves to the downside on the day. While the French CAC 40 Index has plunged by 4 percent, the German DAX Index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index are down by 3.6 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.

In the bond market, treasuries are rebounding following the pullback seen in the previous session. As a result, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is down by 10.9 basis points at 0.589 percent.

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