U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing at the National Institutes of Health Vaccine Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S., on Tuesday, March 3, 2020.
Yuri Gripas | Bloomberg | Getty Images
President Donald Trump sought to play down the plunging price of oil and the global spread of the new coronavirus as markets tanked Monday, saying that lower gas prices were good for consumers and comparing COVID-19 to the common flu.
“Good for the consumer, gasoline prices coming down!” Trump wrote in one of a series of posts on Twitter. In another, he wrote that the flu killed 37,000 Americans last year, compared with 22 known deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The market slid Monday amid an all-out oil price war and fears over the economic pain to come from the coronavirus. The sell-off triggered market “circuit breakers” shortly after trading opened, after the major indexes fell by 7% in less than 15 minutes.
Oil prices were down more than 20% after Saudi Arabia announced major price cuts and production increases. The Saudi move came after Russia rejected a proposal by OPEC to cut 1.5 million barrels of production per day.
Trump said the collapse was caused by Saudi Arabia and Russia “arguing over the price and flow of oil.”
“That, and the Fake News, is the reason for the market drop!” Trump tweeted. “Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on,” he said.
The president’s downplaying of the coronavirus comes even as other parts of his administration signaled that containing the disease was his top priority.
“The American people should know President Trump is leading a whole of government approach,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Fox Business on Monday. “It is the number one priority of this administration.”
Monday’s market turmoil contributed to several weeks of chaotic financial declines spurred by concerns that efforts to contain the flu-like respiratory infection, which emerged late last year in China, will hamper global growth. The president is expected to meet with his economic team later Monday to review options to stem the impact of the disease on the economy.
Some economists have speculated that declines in the price of oil and historically low rates, including for the popular 30-year fixed mortgage, could boost consumer sentiment in the short term. But those factors could be overwhelmed by negativity around the spread of the coronavirus, they cautioned.
“The question is whether the fear factor attributable to the virus will overwhelm any positive impact from lower gasoline prices and lower mortgage rates,” Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, told CNBC over the weekend.
Earlier Monday, Trump tweeted that Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the government’s coronavirus task force, was doing a great job. Trump also boasted that his administration’s travel restrictions on China, which were announced in January, saved lives.
“The BEST decision made was the toughest of them all – which saved many lives,” Trump tweeted. “Our VERY early decision to stop travel to and from certain parts of the world!”
Some of the president’s posts on Monday were more in line with his ordinary preoccupations.
Despite the precipitous market drop, Trump spent some of his morning directing fury at the news media — “So much FAKE NEWS!” — former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and the Democratic Party, which he accused of attempting to “smear” Biden’s rival Sen. Bernie Sanders.