From The Associated Press
NEW YORK —
When jobs fall, the stock market follows.
That was the message investors sent Wednesday, when they ignored a few flashes of positive news about the economy and instead homed in on troubling reports about jobs in the U.S. and Europe.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell as much as 87 points before ending the day down 10.75 points, at 13,268.57. It was an about-turn from the day before, when investors chose to focus on a couple of positive reports on U.S. manufacturing and sent the Dow up 66 points to its highest close in more than four years.
While the market’s day-to-day fluctuations may be difficult to predict, some investors say they’re certain that stocks will continue an overall climb for the rest of the year. As justification, they cite strong first-quarter earnings. More than 330 companies on the S&P 500 have reported first-quarter earnings so far, and 77 percent have beaten analysts’ estimates, according to John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet.
“The market has room to run,” said Karyn Cavanaugh, market strategist with ING Investment Management in New York. “It doesn’t always go up in a straight line.”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 3.51 points to 1,402.31. The Nasdaq composite index was the outlier. It fell throughout the morning, then finished up 9.41 points at 3,059.85.
A monthly report on private sector hiring was weighing heavily on the minds of investors, who see jobs as the key ingredient to an economic recovery.
Payroll processor ADP said that U.S. businesses added 119,000 jobs in April, far fewer than the 201,000 added in March. However, investors will probably wait until Friday, when the government releases its own data on April jobs, before drawing any firm conclusions about the month. The ADP number covers only private-sector hiring and can vary sharply from the government’s number.
Another jobs report from Europe underscored the gravity of the continuing debt crisis there. The 17 countries that use the euro reported that unemployment rose to 10.9 percent in March, the highest since the euro launched in 1999.
Markets fell across most of Europe, including Germany and Greece.
There was also good news out of Europe, even if it didn’t seem to sway investors. Standard & Poor’s lifted Greece’s credit rating out of default, noting how the company had recently secured a massive writedown on its debt to private investors. Germany also reported that the number of people seeking work in April slipped below 3 million, a psychologically important barrier that it hasn’t broken in that month for two decades.
Todd Salamone, director of research for Schaeffer’s Investment Research in Cincinnati, downplayed concerns about Europe. Investors have had a long time to digest any bad news and shouldn’t be too shaken by daily developments, even if the headlines seem panicky, he said.
“U.S. stocks have become more resilient, especially to the European headlines,” Salamone said. “Any negative news out of Europe is not a major surprise like it was early last year.”
In U.S. stocks, one of the biggest losses came at Chesapeake Energy, which plunged 15 percent. The company had reported a first-quarter loss after the market closed Tuesday. It’s also under fire for a massive pay package to CEO Aubrey McClendon and questions about his taking out big loans from companies that do business with Chesapeake. This week, the company stripped McClendon of his role as board chairman.
In an earnings call Wednesday, McClendon said he was “deeply sorry for all the distractions” but also said there was “a great deal of misinformation” circulating about himself and the company.
Ascena Retail Group shot up more than 10 percent after announcing it plans to buy rival Charming Shoppes. Ascena runs dressbarn, maurices and Justice, which are clothing chains for women and girls. The purchase will add Lane Bryant, Catherines and Fashion Bug to its portfolio.
Energizer Holdings, parent of the eponymous batteries, popped more than 9 percent after reporting higher revenue and earnings. The company said that sales of Schick razors helped results.