Stocks sink after Wall Street takes another sharp U-turn

By STAN CHOE 04 December 2021, 12:00AM

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are churning lower on Wall Street Friday after a mixed reading on U.S. jobs led to zig-zag trading, the latest abrupt U-turns for markets following an already dizzying week.

The S&P 500 fell 1% in morning trading after giving up an early gain of 0.7%. It’s coming off a jolting stretch where it swerved by at least 1.2% in five straight days, pounded by uncertainty about how badly the newest coronavirus variant will hit the economy and about when the Federal Reserve will halt its immense support for financial markets.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 240 points, or 0.7%, at 34,406. It was up as much as 161 points earlier. The Nasdaq composite was 2.1% lower as of 10:50 a.m. Eastern time.

Treasury yields were mixed, while a gauge of fear among U.S. stock investors went from easing to worsening quickly after trading began in New York. The erratic movements fit right in with a week where the S&P 500 swung from a 1.9% gain to a 1.2% loss in one day.

Yields initially sank after the U.S. government said employers added only 210,000 jobs last month, less than half the 530,000 that economists expected. The jobs report is usually the most anticipated economic data on Wall Street each month.

But they quickly zoomed back upward as other areas of the jobs report showed better strength. More people are coming back to the workforce, and the unemployment rate improved to 4.2% from 4.6%. Those encouraging trends may help quell worries the economy will stagnate even while inflation remains high, a worst-case scenario that economists call “stagflation.”

“Today’s non-farm payroll report looks messy to me,” said Jamie Cox, managing partner for Harris Financial Group. “Best to wait for the revisions next month before sounding the stagflation alarm too loudly.”

Investors, of course, were still quick to extrapolate very different reactions from the mixed report. Some said that it could push the Fed to speed up its removal of support from markets, while others said they expected no effect.

The Fed jolted markets earlier this week when its chair said the central bank will consider wrapping up its bond-buying program a few months earlier than the June target it had been on pace for. That would open the door for the Fed to raise short-term interest rates off their record low, one of the main reasons the S&P 500 has roughly doubled since the early days of the pandemic. Low rates encourage borrowers to spend more and investors to pay higher prices for stocks.

The competing schools of thought initially pushed the yield on the two-year Treasury down to 0.58% before it rebounded back to 0.65%. By mid-morning, it was back at 0.63%, where it was late Thursday.

The 10-year Treasury yield was at 1.43%, down from 1.44% Thursday evening. But that's only after it zig-zagged from nearly 1.43% to 1.40% to 1.46% immediately after the jobs report's release.

Stocks were also mixed across Europe and Asia. Germany's DAX lost 0.4%, while Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1%.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng slipped 0.1%. Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Global Inc. said Friday it will pull out of the New York Stock Exchange and shift its listing to Hong Kong as the ruling Communist Party tightens control over tech industries.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has moved to require that U.S.-listed foreign stocks like Didi's disclose their ownership structures and audit reports, which could lead to some of them being delisted.

In another blow for China's troubled property sector, Hong Kong-traded developer Kaisa Group said it had failed to get the required approvals from bond holders to extend the deadline on payment on $400 million of 6.5% offshore bonds. It had wanted to have the new notes be due on June 6, 2023 at the same interest rate.

The aim was to relieve financial pressure and the plan's failure to go through raises the risk of a default.

Markets around the world have swung through the week as investors struggle to handicap how much damage the newest coronavirus variant will ultimately do to the economy.

With few concrete answers about omicron, investors have been groping and sending markets back and forth as minor clues dribble out. Still to be determined are whether current vaccines are effective against the variant, whether people will be scared away from businesses because of it and whether already high inflation will worsen due to it.


AP Business Writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed.

By STAN CHOE 04 December 2021, 12:00AM
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