U.S. stocks marked their fifth straight decline on Friday, with the S&P 500 index showing its worst weekly performance since January.
Investors were spooked by a weaker-than-expected jobs report and signs that the global economy may be slowing. The S&P 500 index dropped about 6 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,743.04 on Friday, while the Dow slipped less than 0.1 percent.
The market’s momentum has stalled this week after enjoying a sharp bounce back at the start of this year. This week’s losses for the S&P 500 aren’t as severe as in December, when worries were peaking about a slowing global economy and that interest rates may rise too quickly. Since then, the Federal Reserve helped calm some of the worries by pledging to be patient in raising rates.
But the jobs numbers, released on Friday morning, spooked some investors with its report that, far below the forecast for 180,000 new jobs. Economists and analysts said it’s unlikely the report is unlikely to sway the Federal Reserve’s decision to pause its interest rate hikes.
“Policymakers will likely want confirmation that the slowdown in February job growth is temporary,” wrote Morgan Stanley economist Robert Rosener and his colleges in a research note.
Last gasp of a bull market?
Analysts are debating whether these latest moves are the last gasps for the longest bull market on record for U.S. stocks, which began 10 years ago this weekend, or just the latest challenge for it muddle through.
The jobs report is the latest batch of discouraging economic news to give investors a reason to sell and pocket some of their recent gains as they wait for the next positive headline that could move stocks higher again, said Mark Watkins, regional investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.
“We’ve had a very solid run and there are investors who are going to be taking a little bit of money off the table,” Watkins said.
Some economists were suspicious of the surprisingly weak number, saying it may have merely been a reversal from the exaggerated strength in earlier months and that bad weather during February perhaps exacerbated it. They debated how worried to be about the number.
The report also showed that average hourly pay for workers rose 3.4 percent last month from a year earlier. It was the strongest wage growth since 2009.
Concerns about China
Stocks in Shanghai sank 4.4 percent Friday after a report showed that Chinese exports plunged 20 percent last month, far more than economists expected. It’s the latest wild move for a market that is notoriously volatile. The Shanghai index is still more than 19 percent higher for the year, even with Friday’s plunge.
The dour report on China’s economy, the world’s second-largest, fed into growing worries about the health of the overall global economy. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said this week that it expects global growth to be 3.3 percent this year, down from the 3.5 percent that it had forecast just four months ago.
The OECD said economic prospects are weaker in nearly all the countries that make up the G20 than previously expected, and it cited a slowdown in trade and global manufacturing, among other reasons. The United States and China have been locked in a particularly tense trade dispute, though the countries say they’re making progress in negotiations.