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Stocks zigzag on implications of jobs report

Fri, 11/06/2009 - 7:05am
Sara Lepro and Tim Paradis, AP Business Writers

NEW YORK (AP) – Stocks fluctuated in a tight range Friday as investors found some positives for the market in a surprisingly weak jobs report.

The Labor Department said employers cut more jobs than expected in October, pushing the unemployment rate above 10 percent for the first time since 1983.

The rise in joblessness, while not welcome news for the economy, reassured some investors that the Federal Reserve will have to hold interest rates lower for some time. That weakened demand for the dollar, which gave a boost to stocks.

"All the markets right now are taking their cue off the dollar," said Max Bublitz, chief strategist at SCM Advisors. "We got data today that suggests that interest rates are going to be on hold for a while."

When the dollar is weaker, U.S. goods are cheaper for buyers overseas. Companies that do business overseas also get a profit boost when their earnings are translated back into dollars.

Safe-haven assets like Treasurys were mixed. Oil prices plunged, and gold topped $1,100 an ounce for the first time. Gold benefits when investors are worried about a weak dollar and inflation.

The jobs report bodes poorly for consumer spending, a major component of economic activity. Many consumers cut back spending if they are worried about losing their jobs. Economists say stronger consumer spending will be necessary to sustain a recovery.

The Labor Department said employers cut 190,000 jobs last month, fewer than the 219,000 jobs lost in September, but more than the 175,000 job losses economists had forecast. The unemployment rate jumped to 10.2 percent from 9.8 percent in September.

The market has been expecting unemployment to top 10 percent before peaking. But the pace of job losses has accelerated and the rate is likely to go higher.

In midmorning trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 10.73, or 0.1 percent, to 9,995.23. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 1.64, or 0.2 percent, to 1,064.99, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 2.89, or 0.1 percent, to 2,102.43.

Two stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 336 million shares, compared with 358.8 million shares traded at the same point Thursday.

Bond prices were mixed. The benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose, pushing its yield down to 3.51 percent from 3.53 percent late Thursday.

Oil fell $2.03 to $77.59 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Jeffrey Friedman, senior market strategist at Lind-Waldock, a futures brokerage, said the market has risen too high, so some break is in order.

"Over all, the market is a little overbought," he said. "We're still losing jobs; 10.2 is not a good number. And in reality, it's probably even higher."

Some analysts saw reasons for optimism in the report. The number of temporary service jobs rose 34,000. Companies that are reluctant to commit to hiring workers will often first bring in temps to meet demand until they're more confident of a turnaround in the economy.

Linda Duessel, equity market strategist at Federated Investors, noted that payroll numbers turn higher an average of four and a half months after temp numbers begin to rise.

"We've been looking for temps to turn, and they turned," she said. "It's good."

Duessel also pointed to a downward revision in the number of jobs lost in September as good news.

Investors appeared unfazed by a report that wholesalers trimmed inventories for a record 13th-straight month in September, though sales rose for a sixth-straight period. The Commerce Department said wholesale inventories fell 0.9 percent in September, less than the 1 percent drop analysts forecast.

Sales by wholesalers rose 0.7 percent, slightly better than the 0.6 percent gain economists expected. The drop in inventories and higher sales raised hopes that businesses soon will be forced to boost orders.

Although investors found a bright spot in the worse-than-expected jobs report, the numbers did shake confidence in the economic recovery, stoked Thursday by an encouraging outlook from Cisco Systems Inc., better data on productivity and higher sales at major retailers. The Dow Jones industrials soared 203 points on the day's string of good news to close above 10,000 for the first time in two weeks.

The government said last week that the economy expanded 3.5 percent in the third quarter. Much of that growth was driven by stimulus measures that, once removed, could slow the economic rebound. Earlier this week, the Federal Reserve said economic conditions were improving, but it kept interest rates at a record low to support an ongoing recovery.

In corporate news, Starbucks Corp. rose 89 cents, or 4.5 percent, to $20.59 after the coffee chain said its fourth-quarter profit rose and it raised its fiscal 2010 earnings forecast because of an increase in customers.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 3.78, or 0.7 percent, to 577.37.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.7 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 0.6 percent, and France's CAC-40 advanced 0.2 percent.

More Broadband Direct 11/06/09:
•  Mediacom to launch 100 Mbps D3 service in Dec.
•  Cablevision adds mobile app for DVR control
•  Knology buys small, nearby operator
•  Clearwire refills executive ranks
•  NCTA offers insight on how FCC can save $2B
•  JDSU reduces loss in fiscal Q1
•  Vecima brings on Funnell, promotes Kumar
•  Krikorian joins Clicker's board
•  Report: Minn. needs significant Internet upgrades
•  Verizon gets 2nd Droid smartphone
•  Stocks surge on jobs data, Cisco's forecast
•  Stocks zigzag on implications of jobs report
•  Broadband Briefs for 11/06/09
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