UPDATE: Dow plunges nearly 1,000 points, day after Trump warns of ‘painful’ weeks ahead

Wall Street and markets around the world fell sharply Wednesday as the economic and physical toll caused by the coronavirus outbreak mounts — and as experts say they still can’t predict when it will end.

The dramatic fall came a day after President Donald Trump told the nation that we may be in for a “very, very painful two weeks” due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.

Explore»TUESDAY’S CLOSE: US stocks sink as outlook for jobs worsens amid pandemic

All three indexes were in the red on the first day of the second quarter, with the Dow sinking nearly 1,000 points and S&P 500 losing more than 4% on the heels of the worst first quarter Wall Street history.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 973.65 or 4.4% to 20,943.51.

The NASDAQ composite index was down 339.52 or 4.41% to 7,360.58.

The S&P 500 was down 114.09 or 4.41% to 2,470.50.

The number of infections keeps rising, which worsens the uncertainty. The United States has more than 210,000 cases and a death toll approaching 5,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. That leads the world, which has more than 911,000 confirmed cases.

The White House said anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die from COVID-19, even if the country follows guidelines to avoid shopping trips, eating at restaurants and other activities through April. Florida’s governor became the latest to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.

Such restrictions have already deeply gashed the economy, and Whiting Petroleum, one of the biggest drillers in the Bakken shale formation, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Wednesday, with the price of oil near $20 a barrel. Automakers also reported sharp drops in U.S. sales for March, including a 43% plunge for Hyundai. Mortgage applications tumbled 24% from year-ago levels as open houses are all but shut down.

"There is a lot of uncertainty," said Megan Horneman, director of portfolio strategy at Verdence Capital Advisors. "The negative news is really taking over."

Japanese stocks took some of the world’s heaviest losses, down 4.5%, after a survey of business sentiment there fell to its worst result in seven years. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 3.8% after big banks there scrapped dividend payments, part of a worldwide effort by companies and households alike to conserve cash.

Stocks have plunged this year as the coronavirus pandemic forces economies into what is expected to be a steep, sudden recession. The S&P 500 just closed out its worst quarter since 2008 with a 20% loss.

“The challenge for investors is you don't know how deep and how wide this downturn may be," said Rob Haworth, senior investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “It ends up being a true leap of faith that the forecast and the duration of the pandemic will be accurate.”

Investors sought safety in bonds and the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 0.61%. Stock markets in Asia and Europe also fell. The Nikkei fell 4.5% and markets in Germany and France are down around 4%.

A report on Wednesday said that private U.S. employers cut 27,000 jobs last month, which was actually much milder than economists were expecting. The survey used data from March before the number of people seeking unemployment benefits exploded to a record.

Even Friday's more comprehensive jobs report from the government may not show the full scale of the layoffs sweeping the country, according to Rhea Thomas, senior economist at Wilmington Trust. Small businesses are seeing the sharpest declines in employment, and some firms that closed may not be responding to the survey.

The government's weekly jobless claims report may offer a better view. The next batch of numbers comes Thursday, and economists say it could blow past last week's total of nearly 3.3 million initial claims, which itself was quintuple the prior record.

Britain’s FTSE 100 dropped 3.8% to 5,457 after major banks announced they were scrapping dividend payments, bringing their share prices sharply lower.

In Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 dropped 4.5% to finish at 18,065.41.

With the number of infections still rising in most regions, “If anything, the worst is yet to come, and some of the world's largest emerging markets are still to feel the full onslaught of COVID-19,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst with Oanda.

President Donald Trump warned Americans to brace for a “hell of a bad two weeks” ahead as the White House projected there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S.

“This is going to be a very bad two, and maybe three weeks,” Trump said Tuesday at a White House press conference. “This is going to be three weeks like we’ve never seen before.”

The gloom was apparent in economic indicators around the world. The Bank of Japan's quarterly survey, or “tankan,” showed sentiment among Japan's large manufacturers fell in the January-March period, marking the fifth straight quarter of decline. The tankan measures corporate sentiment by subtracting the number of companies saying business conditions are negative from those responding they are positive.

Explore»MONDAY’S CLOSE: US stocks regain ground despite continuing uncertainty

The key index, which measures sentiment among large manufacturers, fell to minus 8 from zero in October-December, the worst result in seven years. Sentiment among non-manufacturers was also dismal as the service sector, tourism and other businesses have also been hit hard by the outbreak.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 3.6% to 5,258.60, while South Korea's Kospi dipped 3.9% to 1,685.46. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 2.2% to 23,085.79, while the Shanghai Composite edged 0.6% lower to 2,734.52.

India’s Sensex fell 4.7%. Shares also fell in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

The surge of coronavirus cases around the world has sent markets to breathtaking drops since mid-February, undercutting what had been a good start to the year. The virus outbreak abruptly put the clamps on the economy. Benchmark U.S. crude oil dropped by roughly two thirds in January-March amid expectations for weaker demand.

On Wall Street overnight, stocks fell, closing out their worst quarter since late 2008, when the S&P 500 lost 22.6%.

Markets have cut their losses in recent weeks on hopes that massive aid from governments and central banks around the world can blunt the blow. The S&P 500 was down nearly 31% for the quarter at one point, but it has climbed 15.5% since last Monday.

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Among the next milestones for investors is Friday's U.S. jobs report, which will likely show a sharp drop in payrolls. Companies soon will begin reporting their earnings results for the first quarter. Analysts are looking for the steepest drop in profits since early 2016, according to FactSet.

The number of known coronavirus cases keeps rising, and the worldwide tally has topped 860,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has the highest number in the world: more than 189,000 people.

Most people who contract COVID-19 have mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough. But others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems may get pneumonia and need to be hospitalized. More than 42,000 people have died worldwide due to COVID-19, while more than 178,000 have recovered.

In energy markets, the U.S. benchmark crude contract rose 11 cents to $20.59 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 89 cents to $25.4611 per barrel.

The dollar cost 107.59 Japanese yen, up from 107.52 yen on Tuesday. The euro fell to $1.0941 from $1.1034.

— ArLuther Lee contributed to this report for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.