Stocks closed lower and Treasury yields rose Friday with much of Wall Street anticipating that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates as soon as March despite a mixed report on the U.S. jobs market.
The downbeat finish capped the worst week for the S&P 500 technology sector since October and the biggest weekly drop for the tech-heavy Nasdaq in nearly a year.
The S&P 500 fell 0.4%, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury hit its highest level since COVID-19 began pummeling markets at the start of 2020. The benchmark index had been up 0.3% in the early going and then fell as much as 0.7% following the mixed reading from the U.S. Labor Department, which is usually the most anticipated piece of economic data every month.
Employers added only about half the number of jobs last month that economists expected, a seeming negative for the economy. But average wages rose more for workers than expected. On the whole, many investors saw it as evidence that the jobs market is strong enough for the Federal Reserve to continue leaning toward raising interest rates more quickly off their record lows.
“Does this bring the Fed to the table in March or in June?” said Megan Horneman, director of portfolio strategy at Verdence Capital Advisors. “It’s a moot point, in the long run. They’re going to raise rates in 2022.”
Higher rates could help corral the high inflation sweeping the world, but they would also mark an end to the conditions that have put financial markets in “easy mode” for many investors since early 2020. Higher rates also make shares in high-flying tech companies and other expensive growth stocks less attractive, which is why the S&P 500 tech sector bore the brunt of the sell-off this week as bond yields rose.
Immediately after the report’s release, Treasury yields continued the sharp climbs they’ve been on this week as expectations have built for the Fed to raise rates more quickly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury hit 1.77%, up from 1.73% late Thursday. That’s its highest closing point since the middle of January 2020, according to Tradeweb.
Investors are now pricing a better than 79% probability that the Fed will raise short-term rates in March. A month ago, they saw less than 39% of a chance of that, according to CME Group.
“The miss (on job additions) was not big enough to change any of the plans of Fed as far as the tightening cycle goes,” said Cliff Hodge, chief investment officer for Cornerstone Wealth.
Brian Jacobsen, senior investment strategist at Allspring Global Investments, pointed to how hourly wages for workers in the leisure and hospitality businesses were up 14% from a year earlier. That’s a strong leap for a group that accounts for roughly one of every eight workers in the private sector.
“It’s a strong report,” Jacobsen said, “and probably confirms for the Fed” that it should remain biased more toward raising rates than continuing to pump massive amounts of aid into the economy.
Record-low rates have been a major reason for the stock market’s run to records since the pandemic struck. When bonds are paying little in interest, people are wiling to pay higher prices for stocks and other investments.
That’s why any potential rate increase raises nervousness, though the Fed has clearly telegraphed it may raise rates three times in 2022. It has already slowed monthly purchases of bonds it’s making to lower longer-term interest rates, and minutes released this week from its last meeting showed the Fed may dump such purchases off its balance sheet more quickly this time.
Friday’s pullback marked the S&P 500’s fourth straight drop. It ended down 19.02 points to 4,677.03, or about 2.5% below the all-time high it set Monday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 4.81 points, or less than 0.1%, at 36,231.66, after earlier flipping between a gain of 146 points and a loss of 124. The Nasdaq composite fell 144.96 points, or 1%, to 14,935.90. The major indexes all posted a weekly loss, though the Nasdaq’s weekly slide was its biggest since late February.
The Nasdaq has more technology stocks than other indexes, and such companies tend to be hurt more by rising interest rates. It’s the flip side of the benefit they had through much of the pandemic, when low rates pushed investors to pay higher prices for companies able to grow regardless of the economy’s strength. Low rates also made investors more willing to buy companies whose big expected profits may take years to come to fruition.
Smaller company stocks fell more than the broader market. The Russell 2000 index fell 26.56 points, or 1.2%, to 2,179.81.
Tesla fell 3.5% and Nvidia slid 3.3%. Both were among the heaviest weights on the S&P 500.
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