Slowing job growth, stimulus worries weigh on Nasdaq

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Nasdaq closed lower on Friday, as data showed a sharp slowdown in U.S. employment growth and investors worried lawmakers would fail to agree on another fiscal stimulus bill to bolster the economy from a coronavirus-induced recession.

The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones index ended flat to slightly higher on the day.

With the benchmark S&P 500 index now about 1.5% below its record high, defensive sectors including utilities .SPLRCU and real estate .SPLRCR were among the gainers. Tech-related .SPLRCT stocks, which have fueled a Wall Street rally since March, posted the biggest declines and helped push the Nasdaq down more than 1% during the session.

Along the same line, value names, which have been unable to close the performance gap with growth stocks in recent years, advanced, with financials .SPSY gaining more than 2%. The S&P 500 value index .IVX rose 1.13%, while the S&P 500 growth index .IGX fell 0.63%.

The U.S. Labor Department’s closely watched report showed nonfarm payrolls increased 1.76 million in July, much lower than the record 4.8 million in June.

However, the figure still topped economists’ expectations and analysts said it could take the pressure off Congress to agree on a relief bill after weeks of wrangling. Differences have partly centered around continuing an extra $600-per-week in unemployment benefits.

Congressional Democrats on Friday offered to reduce a proposed coronavirus aid package by $1 trillion if Republicans would add a trillion to their counter-offer, but President Donald Trump’s negotiators rejected the idea on Friday as the latest round of talks ended without a deal.

U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called the meeting with Republicans disappointing and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said an agreement on stimulus seemed unlikely, with differences still largely unresolved.

“The bottom line reality is that unemployment is through the roof with respect to historical averages, we are still in a pandemic with no cure and the politicians have promised another $1 trillion or more to the American public,” said Mike Zigmont, head of Trading at Harvest Volatility Management in New York.

“It would be political suicide if they don’t deliver that,” he added.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 46.5 points, or 0.17%, to 27,433.48, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 2.12 points, or 0.06%, to 3,351.28 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 97.09 points, or 0.87%, to 11,010.98.

The declines snapped the Nasdaq’s seven-session streak of gains, with the Dow and S&P falling after rising for five straight days. Each of the three major averages posted weekly gains.

With the second-quarter corporate earnings season largely over, about 82% of S&P 500 companies that have reported so far have beaten dramatically lowered estimates, with earnings on average coming in 22.5% above expectations, the highest on record.

T-Mobile US Inc (TMUS.O) jumped 6.47% as it added more-than-expected monthly phone subscribers and said it had overtaken rival AT&T Inc (T.N) as the second-largest U.S. wireless provider. The stock was the biggest gainer on the S&P communication services index .SPLRCL.

Uber (UBER.N) fell 5.21% as demand for its ride-hailing trips only marginally recovered from pandemic rock-bottom in the second quarter, even as its food-delivery segment saw double the orders.

Meanwhile, Trump late on Thursday unveiled sweeping bans on U.S. transactions with the Chinese owners of messaging app WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok. In response, China said the companies complied with U.S. laws and warned Washington would have to “bear the consequences” of its action.

King Lip, chief investment strategist at Baker Avenue Asset Management in San Francisco, said investors were worried about China’s “potential retaliation” against U.S. actions.

New York-listed Tencent Music Entertainment Group (TME.N), which was spun off from WeChat-owner Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK) in 2018, fell 3.32%, while Facebook Inc (FB.O) jumped.

Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), which is seeking to buy TikTok’s U.S. operations, also dropped 1.79% . U.S.-listed Chinese stocks such as Baidu Inc (BIDU.O), Alibaba Group Holding (BABA.N) and Inc (JD.O) also declined.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.43-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.31-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 36 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 118 new highs and 10 new lows.

About 9.78 billion shares changed hands in U.S. exchanges, compared with the 10.4 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions.

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