Jitters over jobs take toll on stocks
NEW YORK — U.S. stocks took their biggest loss in more than six weeks Thursday as investors reacted to mounting evidence that hiring has slowed down. Energy and health care companies fell sharply, and so did retailers.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 22.79 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,409.75. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 158.13 points, or 0.7 percent, to 21,320.04. The Nasdaq composite sank 61.39 points, or 1 percent, to 6,089.46. The Russell 2000 index, which is made up of smaller, more U.S.-focused companies, shed 19.33 points, or 1.4 percent, to 1,400.81.
Stocks slumped after ADP, a payroll processing company, said private businesses added fewer jobs in June than investors had expected. The losses deepened in afternoon trading.
Bond prices fell and yields jumped, which hurt companies that pay large dividends, such as major drug companies and real estate investment trusts. Retailers sank after L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, reported weak sales in June.
The ADP survey was the latest piece of evidence that hiring has slowed down in recent months. That has investors worried, because the European Central Bank may start raising interest rates soon, and rates are already rising in the U.S. Higher interest rates tend to slow down economic growth.
“If rates rise meaningfully, it will end up hamper- ing growth expectations,” said Krishna Memani, chief investment officer at Oppenheimer Fund.
ADP’s survey showed that private U.S. businesses added 158,000 jobs in June, and the firm lowered its estimates for job growth in April and May. The unemployment rate is at 40-year lows, but there isn’t much evidence that wage gains and economic growth are speeding up.
“We were expecting a significantly higher growth rate in the second quarter,” said Memani. “It’s not panning out that way.”
All of the 61 health care companies listed on the S&P 500 lost ground. Biotech drugmaker Amgen declined $2.54, or 1.5 percent, to $171.72, and medical device maker Medtronic lost $1.64, or 1.8 percent, to $87.26.
Drugmaker Merck skidded $1.06, or 1.7 percent, to $63.10 after it stopped two studies of its cancer drug Keytruda as a treatment for multiple myeloma. Merck said more patients who were treated with Keytruda died, and the Food and Drug Administration halted the studies because the risks of a treatment regimen that included Keytruda outweighed the potential benefits.
Bond prices skidded. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.36 percent from 2.33 percent. Investors sold shares of big-dividend stocks, as the rising bond yields made those stocks less appealing to investors seeking income.
Technology companies, which have been in a swoon over the past month, turned lower again. Apple sank $1.36 to $142.73, and Intel dropped 71 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $33.63.
Energy companies faded even though fuel prices increased. Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 39 cents to $45.52 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 32 cents to $48.11 a barrel in London.
Gold inched up $1.60 to $1,223.30 an ounce. Silver gained 9 cents to $15.98 an ounce. Copper remained at $2.66 a pound.
Trader Joseph Murray works Thursday on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.