Stocks turn down on mixed jobs, Europe downgrades

October 7, 2011 - 5:20 PM
Wall Street

In this Oct. 4, 2011 photo, trader Jason Weisberg works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchang. Investors were cautious on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, ahead of U.S. jobs figures, with stocks down slightly after enjoying a couple of bumper days on hopes of a Europe-wide plan to fix the banking sector.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

A three-day rally on the stock market faded Friday after a mixed jobs report and credit-rating cuts for Italy and Spain.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose in the morning, turned lower at midday, rallied from 3 to 3:30 but then fell 124 points the last half hour of trading. The latest day of choppy trading left the Dow with a loss of 20 points, following a 468-point surge over the previous three days.

Banks fell more than the broader market as the downgrades of Italy and Spain by the Fitch agency renewed concerns about Europe's debt crisis and the fallout it could have on banks. Bank of America Corp. plunged 6 percent, the most in the Dow. JPMorgan Chase & Co. was close behind, 5.2 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 20.21 points, or 0.2 percent, to 11,103.12. Stocks that tend to do well even during economic downturns fared the best. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. led the Dow with a 1.8 percent gain. Drugmaker Pfizer Inc. rose 1.2 percent.

The Labor Department's closely watched report on unemployment contained mixed news for investors.

U.S. employers added 103,000 jobs last month, about double what economists had expected. The government also said more jobs were added in July and August than previously reported. Economists said the report countered short-term fears that the U.S. might be entering another recession.

Yet it offered few signs that strong growth will return soon. The U.S. unemployment rate remained steady at 9.1 percent for the third straight month. The payroll gains weren't enough to bring the unemployment rate down, or even to keep up with growth in the U.S. population.

Broader indexes and small-company stocks didn't do as well as the large companies that make up the Dow. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 9.51 points, or 0.8 percent, to close at 1,155.46. The broader index still gained 2.1 percent for the week, the second week it has made gains out of the previous six.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 27.47, or 1.1 percent, to 2,479.35. The Russell 2000, which tracks smaller companies, plunged 2.6 percent to 656.21.

The Dow is up 1.7 percent for the week. The Nasdaq rose 2.6 percent.

Makers of high-tech lap equipment skidded after Illumina Inc. withdrew its annual earnings forecast, saying demand from government and academic customers had decreased in the slowing economy. Illumina lost a third of its market value. PerkinElmer Inc. plunged 8 percent; Thermo Fisher Inc. lost 6 percent.

Sprint Nextel Inc. plunged 20 percent after the company said it needs to raise money to build out a new high-speed data network. The rose earlier in the day after the company said its new deal to sell Apple Inc.'s iPhone will add to revenue in coming quarters.

Clearwire Corp. plummeted 32 percent after Sprint said it would stop selling phones that work on the company's network at the end of next year. Sprint is building its own high-speed wireless network.

Signs that European officials were taking steps to resolve that region's debt crisis helped drive stocks higher earlier in the week. The European Central Bank promised Thursday to provide unlimited one-year loans to banks through 2013.

The goal is to shield European banks from poorly functioning short-term credit markets. The banks have become increasingly reluctant to lend money to each other, so the new loans from Europe's central bank would make it easier to keep the flow of credit going.

Investors have also worried that if the Greek government defaults on its debt, it would cause the value of Greek bonds held by European and U.S. banks to plunge in value, weakening the banks' balance sheets and making it harder for them to loan money.

"I suspect the market is warming up to the fact that we will get some sort of resolution" to Europe's debt crisis, said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York. "But it may not be as quick as I or the market would like."

From Tuesday to Thursday, the S&P 500 jumped more than 1.75 percent three days in a row. That's only happened three times since World War II, according to analysts at the brokerage BTIG. Each three-day rally came after a steep fall. In hindsight, it looks like a signal that the worst was over. The S&P 500 was much higher a year later.

So has the market already bottomed out?

"I think so," Cardillo said. "We've seen the bottom. My thinking is we're in for a good quarter." But if the government of Greece defaults on its debts, he said, "all bets are off."