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US STOCKS-S&P 500 stock futures tumble after Fed slashes rates

By Lewis Krauskopf

By Lewis Krauskopf

NEW YORK, March 15 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures tumbled to open trading on Sunday, hitting their daily down limit, after the Federal Reserve took drastic action to cushion the economic blow from the escalating coronavirus.

The U.S. central bank slashed rates back to near zero, restarted bond buying and joined with other central banks to ensure liquidity in dollar lending.

The extent of the action, taken ahead of the Fed's regularly scheduled meeting that had been set for Tuesday and Wednesday, signaled to some investors that the central bank was very concerned about the economy.

"They must really be scared," said Robert Pavlik, chief investment strategist at Slatestone Wealth in New York.

"To do that in one fell swoop is really quite shocking. They pulled out whatever weapons they had and my sense is I think it may help initially, but I don’t think it goes much further because this is still a developing issue."

The Fed's actions came as France and Spain joined Italy in imposing lockdowns on tens of millions of people and as panic buying in Australia, the United States and Britain saw leaders appeal for calm over the virus that has infected over 156,000 people globally and killed more than 5,800.

S&P 500 e-minis fell 128.5 points, or 4.77%. Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 359.75 points, or 4.54%. Dow e-minis were down 1,041 points, or 4.53%.

After-hours trading in the futures contract for the benchmark S&P 500 stock index reached the limit shortly after trading opened on Sunday evening. The decline indicates how much the S&P 500 might fall when trading begins on Monday.

The Fed encouraged banks to tap trillions of dollars in equity and liquid assets built up as capital buffers since the financial crisis to support firms and people whose lives have been upended by the virus.

"The issue for investors still remains is that the virus’ economic impact is still not known, if this is a one-month event or if this is a one-year event, and how deep the cutback in consumer spending is going to be," said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments in New Vernon, New Jersey.

(Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf Editing by Nick Zieminski)