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Wall Street ends down after strong jobs growth

US job growth accelerated sharply in January, leading to investor concern about Federal Reserve intentions and falls in shares.

February 4, 2023
By Lewis Krauskopf and Shreyashi Sanyal and Yohann M Cherian
4 February 2023

Major US stock indexes ended lower on Friday after surprisingly strong jobs data sparked concerns about aggressive Federal Reserve action, while investors digested a mixed bag of megacap company earnings reports.

The S&P 500 still posted a gain for the week, which included a string of major market events, and stood not far from five-month highs. The Nasdaq tallied its fifth straight weekly rise, its longest such streak since late 2021.

US job growth accelerated sharply in January, with non-farm payrolls surging by 517,000 jobs, well above an estimate of 185,000. The unemployment rate hit a more than 53-1/2-year low of 3.4 per cent.

In another sign of economic strength, US services industry activity rebounded strongly in January.

Investors have been balancing hopeful signs that the economy could avoid a feared recession against concerns about how long the Fed will keep interest rates high to rein in inflation. The S&P 500 gained earlier this week after comments that were more dovish than expected from Fed Chair Jerome Powell, who acknowledged progress in the fight against inflation.

The jobs report “was an incredible surprise and it raises a lot of questions about what the Fed is going to do next,” said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco. “What I think is causing some of the volatility is markets trying to make sense of how the Fed will perceive this.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 127.93 points, or 0.38 per cent, to 33,926.01, the S&P 500 lost 43.28 points, or 1.04 per cent, to 4,136.48 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 193.86 points, or 1.59 per cent, to 12,006.96.

For the week, the S&P 500 rose 1.6 per cent, the Dow slipped 0.15 per cent, and the Nasdaq gained 3.3 per cent.

Wall Street’s main indexes have had a solid start to the year as tech and other stocks that struggled in 2022 have rebounded, fuelled by hopes that the Fed’s rate hikes would soon end and the economy might be able to navigate a soft landing.

“So many things were trading at bargain-basement prices three, four months ago,” said Eric Kuby, chief investment officer at North Star Investment Management Corp. “That has gone away… I think we are in a fair game now.”

On Friday, investors were also digesting another heavy batch of corporate results.

Shares of Apple, the largest US company by market value, rose 2.4 per cent. The company forecast that revenue would fall for a second quarter in a row but that iPhone sales were likely to improve as production had returned to normal in China.

Shares of Amazon slumped 8.4 per cent as the company said operating profit could fall to zero in the current quarter as savings from layoffs do not make up for the financial impact of consumers and cloud customers clamping down on spending.

Alphabet shares dropped 2.7 per cent after the Google parent posted fourth-quarter profit and sales short of Wall Street expectations.

In other corporate news, Ford Motor shares slid 7.6 per cent after the automaker predicted a difficult year ahead.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 2.82-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.66-to-1 ratio favoured decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 16 new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 127 new highs and 16 new lows.

About 12.8 billion shares changed hands in US exchanges, compared with the 11.9 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions. 

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