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Wall Street Gets Blindsided by the Coronavirus Meltdown

“Most people were like me. They were like, ‘Yeah, whatever, it’s not that big a deal.’”

A pedestrian approaches a subway station near the New York Stock Exchange.

A pedestrian approaches a subway station near the New York Stock Exchange.

Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg

Some of the world’s most famous hedge fund managers gathered on Sunday night at the Capital Grille near Rockefeller Center, a steakhouse where the double-cut lamb chops with mint gremolata run $53. There was John Paulson, who made his billions from the housing collapse that helped trigger the last financial crisis. And David Einhorn, who came out on top when the dot-com bubble burst. And Dan Loeb, who got rich by baring the sharpest teeth.

But these masters of capitalism, brought together by Goldman Sachs Group Inc., were lacking their usual swagger. Instead, they spent the night trying to grasp what was going on as the coronavirus known as Covid-19 raged around the world and a fight between Russians and Saudis hurled the oil market into chaos, according to people there. The fallout could resemble the 2008 crisis, the 2001 collapse, global chaos in 1998, or something else—the very investors who made their fortunes from them weren’t sure. They stared into phones that told them stock futures were falling so much that trading would soon be halted.