Markets

Dow falls 250 points, ekes out small weekly gain after a wild run

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Stocks sell off as Treasury yields hit record lows

Stocks fell on Friday, capping a roller-coaster week on Wall Street, as the coronavirus outbreak kept investors on edge.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average cut losses rapidly in the final 10 minutes of trading, ending the day down only 256.50 points, or 0.9%, to 25,864.78. The 30-stock benchmark plunged 894.66 points at one point in the session. The S&P 500 dropped 1.7%, or 51.57, to 2,972.37, while the Nasdaq Composite fell 1.8%, or 162.98, to 8,575.62.

All three major averages eked out small weekly gains after a wild week that saw the Dow swing 1,000 points or higher twice. The Dow was up 1.7% on the week, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq gained 0.6% and 0.1%, respectively. The benchmarks are still in correction territory, however, down at least 10% from their recent peaks.

Friday's declines came as the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield tumbled below 0.7% for the first time ever. Investors continued to seek safer assets amid fears that the coronavirus will disrupt global supply chains and tip the economy into a recession. Another haven asset, gold, had its best week since 2016.

The market remained under pressure even after a blowout jobs report. The U.S. economy added 273,000 jobs in February, beating expectations of 175,000 new payrolls. The unemployment rate also fell back to 3.5%, matching its lowest level in more than 50 years.

"Markets have not done well on Fridays because we are all expecting the situation to worsen over the weekend," said Andrew Slimmon, senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley Investment Management.

Energy was the worst-performing sector, down 5.6%, as oil prices plunged more than 10% to multi-year lows after OPEC's allies rejected additional production cuts.

Airline stocks rebounded slightly, providing the broad market some cushion, after chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow said the White House is considering "targeted measures" to offset the negative impact on the industry from the coronavirus outbreak. United Airlines jumped 2%, while Delta Air Lines rose 1%.

The expanding health crisis kept investors anxious as global cases of the coronavirus infections surpassed 100,000 with at least 3,383 deaths around the world. In the U.S., at least 12 people have died of the disease. California has declared a state of emergency, while the number of infections in New York reached 33.

"The magnitude of the sell-off in the S&P 500 so far has further to go," Binky Chadha, Deutsche Bank's chief equity strategist, said in a note. "In terms of duration, just two weeks in, it is much too early to declare this episode as being done."

President Donald Trump on Friday signed a sweeping spending bill of a $8.3 billion package to aid prevention efforts and research to quickly produce a vaccine for the deadly disease.

The Federal Reserve announced an unexpected 50 basis points cut from its benchmark interest rate. It was the central bank's first such emergency move since the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

— CNBC's Michael Bloom and Eustance Huang contributed reporting.