Stocks slip on disappointing unemployment numbers

Friday, December 7, 2001

AP Business WriterNEW YORK (AP) -- A worse-than-expected unemployment report pressured stock prices Friday as Wall Street pondered how the thousands of layoffs last month would affect the economic recovery.

Stocks also fell on profit-taking with investors again selling to preserve gains from the powerful technology-based rally earlier this week. The pullback was relatively modest, however, suggesting the market's upward trend might still be in place.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 49.68, or 0.5 percent, at 10,049.46, according to preliminary calculations.

Broader stock indicators also fell. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 8.79, or 0.8 percent, to 1,158.31. The Nasdaq composite index lost 32.97, or 1.6 percent, to 2,021.30.

Despite Friday's losses, it was a good week for the markets. The Dow rose 2.0 percent, the Nasdaq climbed 4.7 percent and the S&P advanced 1.7 percent. The Dow and Nasdaq also recaptured levels not seen since before the terror attacks. The Dow closed above 10,000 Wednesday, the same day the Nasdaq moved past 2,000.

"This market's been really strong. But we're still in a transitional market and we're not going straight up," said Brian Belski, fundamental market strategist at U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray. "This is going to be a gradual process."

Unemployment climbed to 5.7 percent in November, the highest level in six years, the Labor Department said Friday. Layoffs have become increasingly widespread this year, but the jump in jobless figures surprised analysts who had predicted the figure would be 5.6 percent.

Although the economy tends to pick up before unemployment levels recover, the fear is that a continued slide in employment could cause consumers to spend less. Since consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the economy, any dropoff potentially jeopardizes the turnaround that the market has been in rallying in anticipation of for weeks.

Stocks have rebounded significantly since the selloff following the Sept. 11 attacks, but there has been some question about whether the gains are premature. Many investors are betting that business and the economy will start to pick up by the first half of 2002, but so far indications are mixed that this will happen.

Indeed, the same day as the disappointing unemployment numbers, Wall Street got a more positive report from the University of Michigan. The school's mid-December consumer sentiment index rose to 85.8 from 83.9 at the end of November, according to Dow Jones Newswires. The increase suggests consumers' confidence about the economy is improving.

"Unemployment numbers may affect the market for a day or so, but I think investors are more focused on what companies are saying about the fourth quarter," said Charles G. Crane, strategist for Victory SBSF Capital Management. "Thus far the comments from Silicon Valley have been neutral to positive.

"My guess is we have enough momentum ... to favor us being a little higher than we are now at year's end."

Chipmaker Intel fell 92 cents to $33.24 despite a bullish forecast for the fourth quarter released late Thursday. Analysts said investors appeared to be taking profits -- the stock had run up nearly 40 percent since the end of October on speculation that business was improving. Computer chips are thought to do well in the early stages of a business recovery.

Rival Advanced Micro Devices, which made similar predictions, was up $1.60 at $17.85.

Retailers struggled again, a day after reporting that the holiday sales season had gotten off to a poor start in November. Wal-Mart dropped 28 cents to $55.34.

Financial stocks dropped, too, reflecting renewed debate over whether the Federal Reserve would cut interest rates next week for the 11th time this year. Until the strong rally this week and the chipmakers' bullish forecasts, many market watchers had thought the reduction was a sure thing. Now they aren't sure the Fed will think it is necessary. American Express fell 46 cents to $34.70.

Declining issues led advancers nearly 4 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 1.23 billion issues, compared with 1.46 billion Thursday.

The Russell 2000 index lost 1.02 to 481.21.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average slipped 0.6 percent. In Europe, Germany's DAX index dropped 1.4 percent, Britain's FT-SE 100 slid nearly 2.0 percent, and France's CAC-40 lost 0.8 percent.

------On the Net:

New York Stock Exchange: http://www.nyse.com

Nasdaq Stock Market: http://www.nasdaq.com

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: