The Dow Jones Industrials index was set to shed nearly 800 points at the open on Monday as investors scurried to safer assets after a surge in coronavirus cases outside China stoked fears of a bigger impact to global growth.
Gold rose to a seven-year high and the inversion between the 3-month and 10-year US Treasury yields deepened as a rise in cases in Iran, Italy and South Korea over the weekend added to fears of a pandemic. An inversion of the curve is a classic recession signal.
All of Dow's 30 blue-chip members were in the red in premarket trading, with technology behemoths Microsoft Corp down 4.2% and Apple Inc 3.8%. Latest data showed sales of smartphones in China tumbled by more than a third in January.
Last week, Wall Street's main stock indexes had risen to record highs on optimism that the global economy would be able to snap back after an initial hit, supported by central banks.
"However, some people are reassessing the extent to which China is being damaged by the spread of the virus and, more broadly, whether other parts of world will get contagion effects of that," said Nitesh Shah, director of research at WisdomTree.
Chipmakers including Advanced Micro Devices Inc, Micron Technology Inc and Nvidia Corp, which are heavily reliant on China for revenue, slid between 6.4% and 8%.
Rate-sensitive bank stocks also fell. Bank of America Corp, Citigroup Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo & Co and Morgan Stanley were all down between 2.2% and 4.8%.
The CBOE Volatility Index, a barometer of expected near-term stock market volatility, jumped to a six-month high.
At 8:43 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were down 817 points, or 2.82%. S&P 500 e-minis were down 90.25 points, or 2.7% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 279.5 points, or 2.96%.
Heath insurers such as UnitedHealth Group Inc, CVS Health Corp and Cigna Corp dropped between 3.5% and 6% as Bernie Sanders, who supports the elimination of private health insurance, strengthened his front-runner position for the Democratic presidential nomination with a decisive victory in the Nevada caucuses.
In a rare bright spot, Gilead Sciences Inc, whose antiviral remdesivir has shown promise in monkeys infected by a related coronavirus, rose 5.4%.