March 16, 2020 / 8:40 PM / 3 months ago

Canada's TSX falls near 10%, loonie hits a 4-year low as economic fears grow

(Adds strategist quotes and details throughout, updates prices)

By Fergal Smith

TORONTO, March 16 (Reuters) - Canada’s main stock market index tumbled nearly 10% and the Canadian dollar hit a four-year low, as Ottawa limited entry into the country to help fight the spreading coronavirus and measures taken by global central banks failed to calm investors.

The U.S. Federal Reserve and other major central banks acted aggressively on Sunday, with the Fed cutting interest rates to near zero. On Monday, the Bank of Canada announced new measures to help support key funding markets.

But the action did little to support stock markets and the price of oil, one of Canada’s major exports, as investors worried that efforts to contain the spread of the virus would stall economic activity.

“I think there is still a lot of fear out there,” said Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist at SIA Wealth Management. “People are coming in with measures to support the economy and that is great. But nobody knows for how long this is going to drag on.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged people to stay at home and limit social contact to help stem the spread of the virus, while the stock of Air Canada ended about 28% lower after the government closed the border to foreign nationals except for U.S. citizens.

The Toronto Stock Exchange Composite Index, closed down 9.9% at 12,360.40, having hit its weakest intraday level since January 2016 at 11,883.66. The index has fallen more than 31% from its Feb. 28 peak.

Nine of the TSX’s 10 main groups lost ground, including an 18.2% plunge in the heavily weighted energy sector.

U.S. crude oil futures settled 9.6% lower at $28.70 a barrel as Saudi Aramco reiterated its plans to boost output to record levels.

The Fed’s move to slash interest rates could raise pressure on the Bank of Canada to ease further. Canada’s central bank cut its key policy rate on Friday by 50 basis points in an emergency move to leave it at 0.75%.

“It’s doubtful the BoC will wait until their next policy meeting in April to slash rates a final 50 bps,” Benjamin Reitzes, a Canadian rates & macro strategist at BMO Capital Markets, said in a research note.

The Canadian dollar was last down 1.4% at 1.4004 to the greenback, or 71.41 U.S. cents. It hit its lowest intraday level since February 2016 at 1.4019.

Canadian government bond yields fell across a steeper curve, with the 2-year yield down 10.3 basis points at 0.432%. (Reporting by Fergal Smith; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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