President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing at the National Institutes of Health Vaccine Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland, United States, Tuesday, March 3, 2020.
Yuri Gripas | Bloomberg | Getty Images
President Donald Trump sought to minimize the price of oil and the global spread of the new coronavirus as markets collapsed on Monday, saying lower gas prices were good for consumers and comparing COVID-19 to the flu common.
“Good for the consumer, gas prices are falling!” Trump wrote in one of a series of Twitter posts. In another, he wrote that the flu killed 37,000 Americans last year, compared to 22 known deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The market slipped on Monday amidst a total oil price war and fears about the economic suffering that would result from the coronavirus. The sale triggered market “breakers” soon after the markets opened, after the main indices fell 7% in less than 15 minutes.
Oil prices fell more than 20% after Saudi Arabia announced major price cuts and an increase in production. The Saudi move came after Russia rejected an OPEC proposal to cut 1.5 million barrels of production a day.
Trump said the collapse was caused by Saudi Arabia and Russia “arguing over the price and flow of oil.”
“This is, and the Fake News, the reason for the market decline!” Trump tweeted. “Nothing is closed, life and the economy continue,” he said.
The minimization by the president of the coronavirus comes at a time when other parts of his administration have indicated that containing the disease is his top priority.
“The American people should know that President Trump has a whole-of-government approach,” Health and Social Services Secretary Alex Azar told Fox Business on Monday. “This is the number one priority for this administration.”
Monday’s market turmoil contributed to several weeks of chaotic financial decline, spurred by concerns that efforts to contain the flu-like respiratory infection that emerged late last year in China would hamper global growth . The president is scheduled to meet with his business team later on Monday to explore options for stemming the economic impact of the disease.
Some economists have speculated that falling oil prices and historically low rates, including the 30-year fixed mortgage, could stimulate consumer sentiment in the short term. But these factors could be outweighed by the negativity around the spread of the coronavirus, they warned.
“The question is whether the fear factor attributable to the virus will outweigh any positive impact from lower gas prices and mortgage rates,” Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, told CNBC.
Earlier on Monday, Trump tweeted that Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the government’s coronavirus task force, is doing a good job. Trump also boasted that his administration’s travel restrictions to China, announced in January, had saved lives.
“The BEST decision was the most difficult of all – which saved many lives,” Trump tweeted. “Our decision VERY early to stop traveling to and from certain parts of the world!”
Some of the president’s posts on Monday were more in keeping with his ordinary concerns.
Despite the market’s abrupt fall, Trump spent part of his morning directing fury at the media – “So much fake news!” – former vice-president Joe Biden, the favorite for the Democratic nomination, and the Democratic Party, which he accused of trying to “dirty” Biden’s rival, Senator Bernie Sanders.
– CNBC’s Eamon Javers and Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.