Stocks ended a volatile day Friday little changed after the government reported a spike in the unemployment rate to 9.4% in May, the highest level in over 25 years, even as the pace of layoffs eased more than expected.
NEW YORK (AP) — With unemployment still rising, investors are questioning if stocks should be, too.
Stocks ended a volatile day Friday little changed after the government reported a spike in the unemployment rate to 9.4 percent in May, the highest level in more than 25 years, even as the pace of layoffs eased more than expected.
The Dow Jones industrial average finished up 13 points at 8,763.13 — just 14 points below where it started the year. The index had moved in and out of positive territory for 2009 during the day, but the jump in the unemployment rate proved to be too tough to ignore.
“When nearly 10 percent of people are out of work, it’s hard for me to say things are so positive,” said Anthony Conroy, head trader for BNY ConvergEx Group.
Bond prices tumbled again, sending long-term yields to their highest levels this year. Those yields are closely tied to interest rates on mortgages and other kinds of consumer loans.
Investors track unemployment closely since jobless people are far more likely to default on their debts and slash their spending, potentially exacerbating two of the most troubled spots in the economy right now: Consumer spending and the ailing financial industry.
Despite the troubling jobs data, the Dow and other major stock indexes finished the week higher. Although the Dow is still 38.1 percent below its October 2007 high, it has charged ahead 33.9 percent since hitting a 12-year low in early March.
“The markets are feeling better even though the economy is still sick,” Conroy said.
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow rose 12.89, or 0.2 percent, to 8,763.13. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 2.37, or 0.3 percent, to 940.09, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 0.60, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,849.42.
The Dow is up 3 percent for the week, while the S&P 500 is up 2 percent and the Nasdaq is up 3.7 percent.
The Labor Department said employers cut 345,000 jobs in May, far less than the 520,000 economists predicted, a hopeful sign for the job market. But the report also showed that the unemployment rate surged to 9.4 percent from 8.9 percent in April, suggesting that companies are still reluctant to hire.
May’s job losses, the fewest since September, appeared too good to be true to some investors. Speculation swept the trading floors Friday morning that the government had misreported the job cut figure, sending stocks lower in midmorning trading before the Labor Department shot down the rumor.
Bond prices plunged as investors viewed the jobs data as a positive sign for the economy and shifted more funds out of bonds. Investors tend to load up on bonds, which are considered a safe-haven investment, during times of economic distress, and sell them when signs of recovery emerge.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, a widely used benchmark for interest rates on mortgages and other kinds of loans, jumped to a fresh high for the year of 3.91 percent from 3.71 percent late Thursday. By late Friday, the 10-year note’s yield was 3.84 percent.
“There is pretty good evidence that the recession is bottoming,” said Doug Roberts, chief investment strategist of ChannelCapitalResearch.com. “The real question is the type of recovery. Just because we’re reaching a bottom doesn’t mean a bounce is imminent.”
Stocks have rallied sharply over the past three months as improving economic data and better performance at banks gives investors hope that the recession could end some time this year.
But the banking system is hardly on firm footing. On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is pressing for a management shake-up at Citigroup Inc. The embattled New York-based bank has already received $45 billion in government rescue funds. Last month, the government determined that it would need to raise an additional $5.5 billion as a buffer against future losses.
Citigroup fell 11 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $3.46.
Many analysts believe the stock market should keep rising, but in recent weeks investors have become worried about rising commodity prices and the sinking dollar, which can lead to inflation. Those inflation fears are lifting Treasury yields, which in turn are boosting mortgage rates and impeding borrowers’ plans to refinance.
Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co., said he has been recommending to clients that they invest in industries that do well if inflation accelerates. That means companies dealing in hard assets, such as energy, materials and industrial companies. Hogan has been advising against investing in financial firms and companies that rely on discretionary spending by consumers, such as retailers.
Oil prices briefly surpassed $70 a barrel following the jobs report, but retreated to close down 37 cents at $68.44 a barrel.
In other U.S. trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 1.32, or 0.3 percent, to 530.36.
Declining stocks narrowly outnumbered advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.26 billion shares, down from 1.36 billion around the same time Thursday.
Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average gained 1.0 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 1.2 percent, Germany’s DAX index rose 0.2 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.8 percent.