What happened

3M (NYSE:MMM). Trex (NYSE:TREX). Middleby Corp (NASDAQ:MIDD).

On the face of it, these three companies don't seem to have a lot in common. One makes Post-It notes; another, "fake wood" planks for outdoor construction; the third -- pizza ovens. And yet, shares of 3M, Trex, and Middleby all fell in near lockstep today, down more than 10% apiece in early trading and recovering to post losses of "only" 9.6%, 9.3%, and 10.2% as of 12:35 p.m. EDT.

Three red arrows going down and crashing down through the ground

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Why did they fall? Lacking any stock-specific news that might reasonably be expected to drive the declines at any one of these stocks -- and to the contrary, recognizing that one of these stocks actually makes the face masks that are in such high demand today, which would ordinarily be expected to drive its stock up -- there appears to be only one reasonable explanation:

President Donald Trump.

Last night, the U.S. president announced on live TV a series of actions aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus in America, and mitigating COVID-19's effects on the U.S. economy. The actions described were sketched out only briefly, but in summary, one might say that the president banned travel by "immigrants and nonimmigrants" from Europe to the U.S. on one hand (which could depress the economy), but he also offered tax relief, low interest loans, and other "financial relief" on the other hand, to lessen the blow of the travel ban.  

The overall aim was probably to prevent any kind of stock market sell-off this morning. But if that was the intention, the result was suboptimal.

Now what

This, of course, raises the very real prospect that the president, Congress, or both will take another stab at the problem in an effort to fix what went wrong this time around.

That attempt might work, or it might fall as flat as this last one. In the meantime, coronavirus continues to grow -- nearly 125,000 cases spread across 118 countries (and 42 U.S. states), according to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.  

As bad as today looks, things could still get worse. Despite the president's best efforts, the stock market appears to think a recession is now a very real possibility.