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Stocks on Wall Street slid on Friday after a report on the state of the labor market sent mixed signals about the economic recovery and as market turbulence triggered by the Omicron variant continued.
U.S. employers added 210,000 jobs in November, the Labor Department said on Friday, far below expectations for a 550,000 gain and a sharp slowdown from October. But the report also showed that the unemployment rate had dropped, and the overall participation rate, which measures the proportion of Americans who either have jobs or are looking for one, rose to its healthiest level since the start of the pandemic.
Trading was volatile, as it has been all week. The S&P 500 closed about 1 percent lower after starting the day with a small gain. In the bond market, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury dropped nine basis points, or 0.09 percentage points, to 1.35 percent, a sign that investors were moving money to the relative safety of government bonds.
The muddled jobs report added to economic uncertainty brought on by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has led to renewed pandemic restrictions.
Adding to the recent turbulence are shifting expectations for how quickly the Federal Reserve will wind down a bond-buying program put in place early in the pandemic — a move that is a precursor to interest rate increases, which are expected to begin next year. Friday’s jobs report wasn’t weak enough to change the market’s view that the Fed could push up the timing of rate increases as it looks to tamp down inflation.
“Beyond the disappointing headline number, which could be owing to seasonality quirks, the rest of the report is actually pretty strong and is unlikely to deter the Fed from its hawkish turn earlier in the week,” Fiona Cincotta, senior financial markets analyst at Forex.com, said in a note to clients.
Technology stocks were particularly hard-hit on Friday, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite dropped 1.9 percent. Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon were all lower. Together, those five companies account for more than 20 percent of the market value of the S&P 500, with movements from these stocks having a large impact on the direction of the stock market.
Investors had been pulling back on tech stocks all past week, with the Nasdaq outpacing the S&P 500’s declines.
“The market might have been a little too optimistic on the outlook for tech,” said Edward Moya, a senior market analyst at Oanda, a foreign currency exchange and brokerage firm. “Now they’re taking that risk off the table.”
Also weighing on the S&P 500 on Friday was Tesla. Shares of the electric vehicle-maker, which climbed above a market valuation of $1 trillion in October, fell more than 6 percent. The drop on Friday came a day after the company’s founder, Elon Musk, disclosed that he had sold another $1 billion in Tesla stock. Mr. Musk, who has been selling shares in part to cover tax obligations related to the exercise of stock options, has sold nearly $11 billion worth of the shares in recent weeks. But because he’s also gaining new shares thanks to those stock options, Mr. Musk’s stake in Tesla actually stands slightly higher.
Friday capped a tumultuous week for stock investors, which began after evidence of a new coronavirus variant was first reported by South Africa, prompting travel restrictions in several countries. Wall Street ended the day higher on Monday before dropping again on Tuesday after the Fed’s announcement that it would withdraw financial support from the economy quicker.
The first case of the Omicron variant in the U.S. was detected on Wednesday, driving shares lower. The S&P 500 is down nearly 4 percent since Omicron first began to make headlines.
Travel and leisure stocks continued to fall on Friday. Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival were both down about 4 percent. Airline stocks were also lower.
Oil prices, which have been particularly unsteady in recent days, were slightly lower, with West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, down 0.4 percent $66.26 a barrel after earlier having climbed above $69 a barrel.
On Thursday, officials from OPEC, Russia and other oil-producing countries said they would continue with a previously agreed-to program of gradually adding oil to the market.
Shares of the Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing plunged more than 22 percent after the company announced Friday that it would delist its shares from the New York Stock Exchange in favor of a listing in Hong Kong. Other Chinese companies listed in New York also fell, including the e-commerce giant Alibaba, which fell about 8 percent, and JD.com, which slid about 7.7 percent.
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