March 11th, 2020

The defining day in a week that turned the world upside-down

It’s officially a year since our lives changed forever. No person, no business, nor routine is exactly as it was a year ago. While the effects of the virus were already hitting the markets, it was March 11th, 2020 when it really hit home.

Maybe this was a sign. This skyline view paints a different picture everyday. On the morning of March 10th, it seemed ominous.

We all knew something big was coming. Not too many of us realized the enormity of the situation at first.

In January, we kept hearing about the spread of the novel Coronavirus. Many cities in China went into lockdown. I vividly recall talking with co-workers and googling the size of these locked down Chinese cities. They were shutting down cities with the same populations of San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia. Heck, Wuhan itself had the same population of London!

I don’t think we fully understood the magnitude of the problem. Maybe we didn’t trust the news coming out of China, maybe we thought everyone was over reacting or maybe it was just a case of it can’t happen here. I was an “all of the above guy”, myself.

Yet, the stories were out there. Just looking back and reading them truly shows how much we downplayed the whole thing. Just read this, this or this.

For the most part, the market was taking it all in stride. We had a warning shot to end the month as the Dow fell 600 points, and the S&P gave back all its January gains. Yet two weeks later, February 12th to be exact, we were back to making all-time new highs. It wasn’t until the last week of February when the sell-off truly began.

Monday, February 24th was when the market began its decline. We had our first 1,000 point sell-off and a major technical breakdown in the index. The dam had just broken. Over the next 24 trading days, we would experience intraday swings of 1,000+ points in the Dow 21 times. The three days when we didn’t, we still came close —February 26th was a calm 552 point range, March 4th was a 916 point range, and March 6th an 895 point range.

As we hit March, the news kept getting worse. Italy was going into lock down. Cruise ships were parked off the west coast and not allowing passengers off. The virus was spreading and spreading fast. It had now come to America.

The Week of March 11th…

The commute started to get easier as there were less people on the roads and trains. Those of us commuting were acutely aware of every sniffle or mild throat clear near us. We would be reluctant to hold a hand rail and kept as distant as possible. At work, hand sanitizer stations were everywhere and we washed our hands like a doctor prepping for surgery.

The weekend before that epic day of March 11th, was also one I would never forget. The fear of a lockdown was finally starting to hit home. Stores were being overwhelmed as people scrambled for basic toiletries and food. By the time I got to go shopping on the 11th, I was way too late.

Sunday night the 8th, I was watching my daughter play in a big soccer tournament. Half the time my head was in my phone checking on the S&P Futures and Twitter. The rest of the time, I was just chatting with the other parents about the latest speculation of what may come. Lost on me in that moment, was the fact that this would be the last time I would ever get to watch my daughter play. The shutdown came soon after. The season, and thus her playing days, were suddenly over.

Besides the growing global pandemic, we started that fateful week with news of a surprising Saudi oil cut and that Prince Harry would be leaving the royal family. Neither of these things helped assuage investors’ fears. Well, at least one of those two things caused ripple effects in the market. As a result, we sold off 2,013 points on that Monday.

On Tuesday we rallied 1,950 points only to give most it back on Wednesday the 11th with a 1,528 point decline. Terms like “limit up” and “limit down” were becoming the norm. Yet, while the markets were already in crisis mode, it was that night of the 11th when the enormity of it all hit home…

That night played out like an ESPN 30-for-30 documentary in real time. Every minute a news report would come out driving home the scope of the pandemic. News kept coming that would change our way of life for the foreseeable future.

That drama started with the NBA. They suspended a game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma Thunder as Jazz player, Rudy Gobert, was diagnosed with an “illness” that was later confirmed as the Coronavirus. Ironically, he had mocked the illness earlier in the week.

Yet it wasn’t just that game. During the 3rd quarter of the Dallas Mavericks game, the cameras focused in on their owner Mark Cuban. He had just gotten a text learning that the NBA season was being canceled. Mid-game, the NBA announced it was ending the season immediately.

From there it was one story to the next - all with major implications and all happening on live TV in real time. The NCAA cancels games and their tournament, the President addressed the nation from the Oval Office, and actor Tom Hanks and has wife tested positive for Coronavirus. Joe vs The Volcano aside, seriously, name an actor bigger than Tom Hanks? I’ll wait… here’s his IMDB page if you question me. But, I digress…

Panic was setting in. Remote work was ramping up, as those that could work from home, would now do so. Life as we knew it was put on pause.

As a result of all the news on the night of March 11th, the markets continued to free fall. Thursday, March 12th ended up being the biggest point drop in the Dow since the Crash of 1987. I chronicled much of this from the floor of the NYSE.

On Friday, we saw a pause in the selling. Thanks to an upbeat 3:30pm White House press conference, we experienced one of the steepest end-of-day rallies in my lifetime. We closed up by 1,985 points, but still lost 10% for the week. I talked about it ten minutes after the closing bell with Judy Shaw here.

The Market Aftermath…

After surviving March 12th, one had hoped the worst was over. The Fed was meeting later in the week, and the anticipation of a rate cut was evident. However, they announced an emergency cut that Sunday night. I assumed they had hoped it would help continue the bounce back we saw on Friday, but it had just the opposite effect. The market took it as a panic move, and we saw the sharpest percentage drop since 1987 and the biggest point loss ever. Again, I also talked to Judy Shaw about that minutes after the close as seen here.

That wasn’t the worst of it. The sell-off continued another week. We didn’t bottom until March 23rd as we hit an intraday low of 18,213. A 38% decline from its February 12th peak. We hadn’t experienced a move like this since the Great Depression and the speed at which it happened was unlike anything we had ever seen.

The flash depression was over. Thankfully, in market terms, the recovery was swift and we made up for most of those losses by September. Sadly, the negative physical and mental toll was just starting. It continues for many of us today.

The New Reality…

While the market repercussions made the headlines and had major short term impacts on our lives, that failed in comparison to what each of us went through individually.

Sadly, everyone experienced major changes. Some of my friends experienced the worst of it with losses of a loved one. Add in the fact that we couldn’t celebrate those lives or be there during the worst of times, made things even that much worse.

Outside the human toll, we lost much of what we took for granted—the get-togethers, the community events, socialization and bonding. Parts of our lives were literally turned upside down.

I tend to be a “glass is half-full” person. I could dwell on so many negatives, but there were also positives that came out of the crisis.

We will never have a time like this to bond with our families again. Granted, I can’t wait to get everyone out of the house, but we will look back fondly on some fun times.

The work force has made some positive changes that may be for the best. Although I will always prefer the human interaction and touch, some innovation was a welcome change. Things will continue to run more efficiently going forward. We may never shop, negotiate or meet in ways we used to - this is not a bad thing.

When we do go out, it should be epic. Birthday parties, weddings and graduations will be events we cherish more than ever. Concerts, movies and sporting events will be celebrated like never before. I have lists of places I want to go and people I want to see. Spring brings hope. Each day we are getting a little closer.

As much as I love to look back and remember how historically crazy things were one year ago when that “sky was all purple”, I’d like to keep with the Prince theme, because soon enough, I hope all will party like its 1999.