03/09/2020 11:38 EDT | Updated 03/09/2020 14:23 EDT

Canadian, U.S. Stock Markets Halted Amid Panicked Selloff

Traders are dumping stocks amid a lockdown in northern Italy and an oil price war between the Russians and Saudis.

TORONTO ― North American stock markets nosedived in initial trading as the price of oil collapsed and the loonie plunged against the U.S. dollar.

The rout at the start of trading triggered circuit breakers on the stock markets in Canada and the United States that temporarily put a halt to trading.

The drop followed an earlier plunge in European and Asian stock markets that came after Saudi Arabia, Russia and other major oil producers failed to agree on cutting output to prop up prices.

The move rattled already volatile stock markets that have been hammered in recent weeks due to concerns about the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak that began in China, but has spread around the world.

Italy has moved to isolate cities and towns with some 16 million people, or more than one quarter of its population, in its industrial and financial heartland in an effort to fight the spread of the virus.

The S&P/TSX composite index was down 1,091.98 points at 15,083.04 after trading down more than 1,600 points in early trading.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 1,361.48 points at 24503.30. The S&P 500 index was down 156.08 points at 2,816.29, while the Nasdaq composite was down 415.85 points at 8,159.77.

The Canadian dollar traded sank to its lowest level since January 2019 by trading at an average of 73.66 cents US, compared with an average of 74.51 cents US on Friday.

The April crude contract was down US$7.99 at US$33.29 per barrel and the April natural gas contract was up 0.7 of a cent at US$1.715 per mmBTU.

The April gold contract was down US$3.30 at US$1,669.10 an ounce and the May copper contract was down 6.90 cents at US$2.4915 a pound.