Dow falls over 200 points in afternoon trade as investors assess jobless claims, await monthly employment report

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U.S. stocks reversed earlier gains, falling sharply in afternoon trade on Thursday, as investors looked into the the latest weekly jobless benefit claims report for signs of a weaker labor market, while awaiting Friday’s February employment data that could help decide how large an interest rate hike the Federal Reserve will impose at its next meeting in two weeks.

How are stocks trading

  • The S&P 500 dropped 30 points, or 0.8%, to 3,961
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 218 points, or 0.7%, to 32,574
  • Nasdaq Composite declined by 112 points, or 1%, to 11,462

Both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq finished higher on Wednesday, with only the Dow finishing in the red, while all three indexes remained on track for weekly losses. A weekly drop for the S&P 500 would mark its fourth such pullback in five weeks.

What’s driving markets

U.S. stocks trimmed earlier gains and extended losses on Thursday afternoon after trading modestly higher after the open when the latest weekly jobless claims data showed an unexpectedly large uptick in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits.

The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits in early March jumped to a 10-week high of 211,000, the highest level since Christmas. That’s higher than the 195,000 new applicants that economists polled by the Wall Street Journal had anticipated.

Economists said the data suggest that the labor market might be starting to slow, which is seen as a necessary prerequisite for driving inflation back to the Fed’s 2% target.

“The labor market might just be on the cusp of an inflection point,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer of Bleakley Financial Group, in emailed commentary.

Investors are now looking ahead to Friday’s closely watched February jobs report from the Department of Labor. Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal expect 225,000 jobs were created last month after 517,000 new jobs were created in January, a number that was much higher than economists had anticipated.

See: Wall Street sees smaller 225,000 increase in U.S. jobs in February. A much larger gain might spur stiffer Fed rate hike.

Treasury yields ticked lower, but short-term yields remained near 15-year highs. The yield on the 2-year note declined by 9 basis points to 4.969%.

The Russell 2000 the small-cap index, is on pace to close below its 50-day moving average for the first time since January 9, 2023, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Regional bank stocks underperformed on Thursday. Shares of Silicon Valley Bank parent company SVB Financial Group plummeted 47.1% after the company disclosed large losses from securities sales and a stock offering meant to provide a boost to its balance sheet. SVB is on pace to book the biggest one-day selloff since the dotcom boom, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Signature Bank   shares dropped 8.8%undefined

See: SVB Financial’s stock suffers biggest drop in 25 years after large losses on securities sales, equity offering

Stocks suffered earlier in the week as Powell said during testimony on Capitol Hill that rates would likely need to rise even further than market participants had expected. However, the main indexes saw some relief after the Fed chief clarified that policymakers hadn’t yet decided on the size of the next rate hike.

Investors have already digested several reports on the labor market this week, including a report on the number of job openings, which showed that the number of Americans quitting their jobs had fallen below 4 million in January for the first time in 19 months.

“The big picture is that the labor market is easing, but it’s still tighter than it was before the pandemic,” said Sonu Varghese, a global macro strategist at Carson Group.

See: Bad economic data won’t be good for stocks, but good data will be even worse, this JPMorgan technical strategist says

Companies in focus

— Jamie Chisholm contributed to this article

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