(Reuters) – The U.S. benchmark S&P 500 stock index fell more than 4% on Wednesday after a dire warning on the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus sent investors running from even the most defensive equities.

Economic data showed U.S. manufacturing activity contracted less than expected in March, but disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic pushed new orders received by factories to an 11-year low, reinforcing economists’ views that the economy was in recession.

Also, business closures as authorities tried to contain the coronavirus pushed private payrolls down by 27,000 jobs last month, the first decline since September 2017, the ADP National Employment Report showed separately on Wednesday. {nL1N2BP0LV]

The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average and benchmark S&P 500 indexes extended losses after suffering their worst first quarter as President Donald Trump warned Americans of a “painful” two weeks ahead and health officials highlighted research predictions of an enormous jump in virus-related deaths.

Roughly two weeks before the first-quarter earnings season is due to start in earnest, investors are “very sensitive to the latest headlines” about the virus due to a lack of fundamental information,” said John Augustine, chief investment officer at Huntington National Bank in Columbus, Ohio.

“We don’t know all the economic and earnings impact yet and this is a sober thought for Americans with those projections of the death rate,” said Augustine.

S&P 500 firms are expected to enter an earnings recession in 2020, falling 4.3% in the first quarter and 10.9% in the second, according to the latest estimates gathered by Refinitiv.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 973.65 points, or 4.44%, to 20,943.51, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 114.09 points, or 4.41%, to 2,470.5 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 339.52 points, or 4.41%, to 7,360.58.

Additional reporting by Uday Sampath and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Chizu Nomiyama

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