• The stock market has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with worrying volatility, as traders have panic-sold out of fear.
  • As a result of the recent turmoil, the market-wide circuit-breakers that attempt to prevent panic-trading, have been triggered four times alone in March.

The market has reacted to recent unpredictability with large drops, triggering a market wide circuit breaker four times in March. The safeguard pauses trading for 15 minutes in hopes the market will calm.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission mandated the creation of market-wide circuit-breakers to prevent a repeat of the Oct. 19, 1987 market crash, in which the Dow plunged 22.6%. Since then, they have only been triggered once in 1997 before the four times this March.

Trading stopped four times

The S&P 500 triggered level 1 market wide circuit breakers during the opening hour on March 9, 12 and 16 based on drops of 7% from the previous close, and tripped later in the day on the 18th. Trading also halts on both the Dow and the Nasdaq when a circuit-breaker is triggered on the S&P 500.

coronavirus pandemic economy stocks market exchange shares bonds trading commission volatility health disease infection finance
The value of the S&P 500 has dropped dramatically.
Image: Reuters Graphics

“There's no doubt that, I think, many of us are feeling a little like, when we're watching the stock market, that we're a bit like a boxer taking body blows and just trying to stay off the mat...”

— Mark Hamrick, Bankrate Senior Economic Analyst - March 18, 2020

How circuit breakers work

The current guidelines mandate a 15-minute pause in trading on all U.S. stock exchanges if the S&P 500 index falls more than 7% before 3:25 p.m. New York time. The breakers are set up to calm markets by halting trading as it grows more and more volatile. The first two levels of breaks are set to halt trading for 15 minutes, while a level 3 will suspend trading for the rest of the day.

coronavirus pandemic economy stocks market exchange shares bonds trading commission volatility health disease infection finance
Fail-safe.
Image: Reuters Graphics

Falling markets, rising volatility

The Dow and S&P 500 have both been seeing drops due to uncertainty around the global coronavirus pandemic, while the Chicago Board of Exchange Volatility Index has been rising steadily since the middle of February as the virus began to spread around the world.

coronavirus pandemic economy stocks market exchange shares bonds trading commission volatility health disease infection finance
Uncertainty has infected the global stock market.
Image: Reuters Graphics

The coronavirus has created such uncertainty around the world that two of the largest single day drops in the Dow Jones Industrial Average have been from March of 2020.

coronavirus pandemic economy stocks market exchange shares bonds trading commission volatility health disease infection finance
The stock market is experiencing some of its highest drops ever as a result of COVID-19.
Image: Reuters Graphics