What happened

Stocks tied to the travel industry got trounced in early trading Monday and remained down as of 12:20 p.m. EDT. Currently, shares of hotel chain Marriott International (NASDAQ:MAR) are down 2.5%, and the stock of car rental company Avis Budget Group (NASDAQ:CAR) is off 2.2%. In the realm of airlines, Brazilian airline Azul S.A. (NYSE:AZUL) is falling a whopping 8.8%.

There was no bad news affecting any of these three stocks specifically. In the case of Avis Budget, today's announcement that Joe Ferraro has been confirmed as permanent CEO probably qualifies as good news, since it lends investors some certainty about who's running the show.  

Collage of an airplane, coronaviruses, and a world map

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

The coronavirus may be the primary culprit. Over the weekend, 49 new cases prompted authorities in China to close down Beijing's largest wholesale foods market, which they believe was the epicenter of the outbreak. China claimed that it was the first country to have contained coronavirus and was entering into a recovery period. So while 49 cases of COVID-19 may not sound like a large number, it's having a disheartening effect among investors today. 

Meanwhile, spiking COVID-19 cases in the U.S. prompted Utah and Oregon to suspend their reopenings, even as other states pressed forward with unlocking from the Great Lockdown despite rising infections.  

Coronavirus infections in the U.S. are approaching 2.1 million cases (more than 7.9 million worldwide), with more than 115,000 deaths (nearly 434,000 worldwide), according to data from Johns Hopkins University.  

Perhaps worse than the expected second wave of the coronavirus, which was predicted to arrive after the initial contagion has been tamped down, these reports suggest that the first wave never really got under control: not in China, and not here, either. And this in turn suggests that a return of travelers making discretionary purchases such as booking hotel stays, rental cars, or airline flights is not in the cards.

Now what

This is obviously bad news for travel stocks, Marriott, Avis, and Azul among them. This morning, economists at Morgan Stanley indicated that they had actually expected last week's sell-off in stocks (although I don't recall them predicting it) and said it was "healthy." The investment bank then proceeded to predict another 5% to 7% downside, but said the bull market would then "resume in earnest."  

For the time being, however, investors seem to be focusing more on the immediate bad news portending a continuing recession, and on the near-term prospect of continued stock market declines. As for the "resume in earnest" part, investors will believe that when they see it.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.