Bad news about jobs spooks markets

Wednesday , May 02, 2012 - 9:17 AM

Wall Street

In an April 16, 2012 photo trader Damian Bagarozza left, and specialist Joseph Mastrolia work on...

Christina Rexrode

NEW YORK-- Investors homed in on bad news about jobs in the U.S. and Europe Wednesday. They sent stocks down in early trading, erasing the hope generated the day before about a brisk May for the market.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 78 points to 13,201 in the first hour of trading. The day before it closed at the highest point in four years, propelled by encouraging reports about U.S. manufacturing.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 fell 11 points to 1,395. The Nasdaq composite index fell 16 points to 3,034.

An unemployment report underscored worries about Europe's debt crisis. 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.

There was also good news out of Europe, even if it wasn't enough to move the market.

Greece, which recently got relief from private lenders for a big chunk of its debt, had some good news: Standard & Poor's lifted the country's credit rating out of default, though it's still in junk status.

Germany, the perennial strong man in the troubled euro zone, reported that the number of people seeking jobs in April slipped below 3 million, a psychologically important barrier that it has broken in that month for two decades.

Some investors believe the U.S. market has already baked in concerns about Europe, despite the worries caused by news headlines.

"If there were a lot of investors that were bullish on Europe and all of a sudden a headline surfaced that they're headed to recession, that would create panic," said Todd Salamone, director of research for Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati. "But now everybody thinks recession is imminent."

Nearly half the countries in the euro zone are officially in recession.

Concerns about U.S. jobs growth also roiled investors. Payroll processor ADP said that U.S. businesses added 119,000 jobs in April, far lower than the 201,000 added in March. The report covers hiring only in the public sector and can vary sharply from the government's broader employment report, which is due out Friday.

Stocks fell across the board. All 10 industries groups in the S&P 500 index were down, led by energy companies.

Chesapeake Energy plunged nearly 10 percent. The drilling company, under fire for handing its CEO big pay even when its stock was falling, announced Tuesday it would strip its chief executive of the chairman's title. The CEO, Aubrey McClendon, was scheduled to address analysts Wednesday morning.

Some companies fell even after reporting higher profits.

MasterCard's first-quarter profit shot higher thanks to more card use overseas, but the stock fell 2 percent. Comcast, the cable company that owns a majority stake in NBC Universal, also reported a higher profit thanks partly to Super Bowl advertising. But its stock also fell 2 percent in early trading.

Ascena Retail Group was an exception on an off day, shooting up nearly 10 percent after announcing it will buy Charming Shoppes, the company that owns women's clothing chain Lane Bryant.

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