Before The Bell - Wall Street opened for trading yesterday morning on a generally lower note, with a sharp retreat in an overbought NASDAQ Composite leading the way lower. The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened slightly to the upside, meantime, as buying was continuing for a second straight day in some of the more depressed blue chip issues. This soft overall performance followed a bevy of early economic reports and preceded this morning's just-released issuances on employment and unemployment. As has been the case recently, the Thursday releases seemed to have little effect on equity market activity. Now, this morning, the Labor Department has just released the employment report for August. That issuance is discussed below.
First, with regard to yesterday's economic data, new applications for unemployment benefits in the latest week through August 30th, showed a decline to 881,000. That was 130,000 below the prior-week tally and also was less than the consensus reading of 940,000. Moreover, there was a revised result in second-quarter productivity, which showed an increase of 10.1%, while the nation's trade deficit widened to $63.6 billion in the latest month. Then, at 10:00 AM (EDT), the ISM services report for August was issued showing a score of 56.9. That was below the 58.1 survey tally for July, but was in line with estimates.
As for this last result, it indicated that production and new orders slowed their advances last month, while employment and pricing picked up. But the big story this week was the just-issued employment report from the Labor Department. Here, the survey showed that the nation had added 1.4 million jobs in August, a total that was largely in line with expectations. At the same time, the jobless rate, which stood at 10.2% in July, was reduced to 8.4% last month. That was well below the forecast of 9.8%. In other aspects of the report, the labor-force participation rate rose by 0.3% to 61.7% last month, while average hourly earnings increased by $0.11. In sum, it was a solid report by almost all gauges.
Returning to yesterday's performance on Wall Street, after that mildly weaker beginning, the major indexes really tumbled as the morning progressed, with the Dow reversing its nominal uptick to plummet by more than 800 points at the morning low before a minimal recovery set in as we headed towards the noon hour. The NASDAQ, meanwhile plunged by more than 600 points at its morning nadir. Things would get a little worse for a time in the afternoon, with the Dow falling to a momentary loss of just over 1,000 points. The NASDAQ's worst loss would approach 700 points.
Things would get just incrementally better by the close, but the day's loss would sill surpass 800 points in the blue chips and approach 600 points in the NASDAQ. The S&P 500, on the doorstep of 3,600 on Wednesday, would conclude yesterday at 3,455. Then, after the close and into the early evening, the Dow futures would drop another 170 points, with large indicated declines at the time in such big name technology stocks as Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT). Looking at things earlier today, the futures had turned positive. Now, following the jobs report, the Dow futures still are advancing, but the NASDAQ futures are off rather sharply, suggesting that there may be more tumult ahead for technology. It also would seem that emotions are taking the lead over fundamentals, at this time. Stay tuned. – Harvey S. Katz, CFA