The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down by around 975 points on Wednesday, as markets continued to reel from President Donald Trump's stark warning that the U.S. could be facing "hell."
"This could be a hell of a bad two weeks. This is going to be a very bad two, and maybe three weeks. This is going to be three weeks like we've never seen before," Trump said at a White House coronavirus task force briefing Tuesday night. White House officials warned that the U.S. could see up to 240,000 deaths from the outbreak.
All three major averages saw sell-offs on the first trading day of the second quarter, with the S&P and Nasdaq lower by around 4.4 percent. The first quarter, which ended on Tuesday, was one of the worst quarters in stock market history, with the Dow recording its worst-ever first-quarter performance.
Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak
"The quarter will be remembered as the fastest and greatest drop in the stock market for the start of any post-war bear market," Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at the Leuthold Group, told CNBC.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the fabric of American life, closing schools, factories and businesses across the country, leaving millions of Americans without work. Jobless claims data for the week ending March 21 showed a staggering 3.28 million Americans had filed for unemployment, the most on record.
Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak
The monthly jobs report to be released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is also expected to shock, even though the data were collected before the heaviest impact from the viral outbreak began.
Data from private payroll firm ADP and Moody's Analytics released on Wednesday showed a loss of 27,000 jobs for the week ending March 12 - also before the nationwide shutdowns were implemented. That is the first contraction in a decade.
Total job losses probably will total 10 million to 15 million, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's.
"It's been 10 straight years of consistent, solid job growth, and the virus has put an end to that," he said.