The key domestic equity indexes closed out the trading day on Friday in negative territory for a fifth straight session. The also posted their largest weekly decline since the market tumbled at the end of 2018, as a weak jobs report ignited more concerns about the global economy. The Nasdaq snapped a 10-week streak of weekly gains.
However, stocks significantly pared losses late in the day as the Street reassessed the employment report and considered whether the market’s recent slump was ending.
The eventful session came as some Wall Street watchers prepared to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the start of the S&P 500’s bull market run that took root during the financial crisis.
Employment growth almost stalled in February, with the economy creating only 20,000 jobs, adding to signs of a sharp slowdown in economic activity in the first quarter. The payroll gains reported by the Labor Department were the weakest since September 2017.
The weak jobs report added to economic fears also fanned by a sharp fall in China’s exports and after the European Central Bank slashed growth forecasts for the region on Thursday. Nonetheless, equities finished well above their lows for the session, as it was noted that the jobs report was affected by seasonal effects and the federal government shutdown.
The closely watched Dow Jones Transportation Average fell 0.5 percent, dropping for an 11th straight session, its longest streak of declines since 1972, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.
The recent pullback has paused 2019 rally that has been fueled by optimism over a U.S.-China trade deal and by beliefs the Federal Reserve will be less aggressive in raising interest rates. The S&P 500 is up 9.4 percent this year.
Energy fell the most among the 11 major sectors, declining 2.0 percent as oil prices also fell. Exxon was down 1.4 percent and was among the worst drags on the S&P 500 index.
Utilities led gains among the sectors, while two other defensive groups, consumer staples and real estate, finished in the black.
In corporate news, Costco rose 5.1 percent after the retailer’s quarterly earnings exceeded consensus estimates.
Approximately 7.1 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, a number that was below the 7.3 billion share daily average over the past 20 trading days.
Job Growth Is Anemic
Employment growth almost stalled in February, with the economy creating only 20,000 new jobs, adding to signs of a sharp slowdown in economic activity in the first quarter.
The meager payroll gains reported by the Labor Department on Friday were the weakest since September 2017, with a large decline in the weather-sensitive construction industry.
The numbers also reflected a decline in hiring by retailers and utility companies as well as the transportation and warehousing sector, which is experiencing a shortage of drivers.
However, the stumble in job growth, which followed two straight months of hefty gains, likely understates the health of the labor market as other details of the closely watched employment report were strong.
The unemployment rate fell back to below 4 percent and a wider measure of underemployment fell by the most ever. In addition, annual wage growth was the best since 2009, and the economy created 12,000 more jobs in December and January than previously reported, bringing the total for the two months to 538,000.
Still, the mixed report was another indication the economy, which in July will mark a record 10 years of expansion, is slowing and supports the Federal Reserve’s “patient” approach toward further interest rate increases this year.
The economy is losing speed as the stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut and increased government spending ebbs. The record goods trade deficit is also hurting activity as well as slowing global economies. Growth estimates for the first quarter are around a 1 percent annualized rate.
The length of the average workweek fell to 34.4 hours last month from 34.5 hours in January.
Job gains over the last two months averaged 186,000 per month, well above the roughly 100,000 needed to keep up with the working-age population. The unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.8 percent in February, also a response to the federal government workers who were temporarily unemployed during a 35-day partial shutdown returned to work.
A broader measure of unemployment, which includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment, dropped to 7.3 percent, the lowest since March 2001, from 8.1 percent in January. The decline in the so-called U6 rate was the largest since the BLS launched the series in 1994.
Average hourly earnings rose 11 cents, or 0.4 percent, in February after gaining 0.1 percent in January. That raised the annual increase in wages to 3.4 percent, the biggest gain since April 2009, from 3.1 percent in January.
Overall, wage inflation remains moderate. A report on Thursday showed labor costs rising only 1.4 percent in 2018, the smallest gain since 2016, after increasing 2.2 percent in 2017.
It appears that employers are continually hiring as more people return to the labor force, including students, women and people who had dropped out to collect disability benefits. However, that source of labor supply is dwindling.
The labor force participation rate, or the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one, was unchanged last month at more than a five-year high of 63.2 percent. Look for job growth to average about 150,000 this year.
Last month, employment at construction sites fell by 31,000 jobs, the largest decline since December 2013, after increasing by 53,000 jobs in January. The leisure and hospitality sector added no jobs after payrolls increased by 89,000 in January.
The manufacturing sector created 4,000 jobs, the fewest since July 2017, after hiring 21,000 workers in January. The diffusion index of manufacturing employment, which measures the proportion of industries that showed job gains during the month, fell to 51.3 in February.
Retail payrolls were down by 6,100 jobs. There were also job losses in the utilities as well as transportation and warehousing industries. Government payrolls dropped by 5,000 jobs last month, pulled down by declines both local and state government education.
Professional and business services employment increased by 42,000 jobs in February. The education and health care sector added only 4,000 jobs.