The Business Times

US: Strong jobs report helps stocks cut weekly losses

Published Fri, Oct 3, 2014 · 10:39 PM

[NEW YORK] The September jobs report lifted US stocks on Friday, but it wasn't enough to counteract the hit earlier in the week from worries on everything from Ebola to tanking oil prices.

All three indices lost ground for a second week in a row, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ending at 17,009.69, down 103.46 points (0.60 per cent).

The broad-based S&P 500 shed 14.95 (0.75 per cent) to 1,967.90, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index fell 36.57 (0.81 per cent) to 4,475.62.

Tom Cahill, portfolio strategist at Ventura Wealth Management, said Friday's jobs report was "obviously very good news" for a market that spent much of the week deep in the red.

Friday's Department of Labour report said the US economy added 248,000 jobs in September, rebounding from a disappointing August report.

Most analysts said the figures bolstered confidence that the US economic recovery remained on track, but is not so robust to prompt the US Federal Reserve to speed up its time-table for lifting benchmark interest rates.

Several other economic reports were surprisingly weak.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index showed slower price growth in July than June, while the Conference Board reported a big drop in consumer confidence in August. Reports on manufacturing sector activity and construction spending also disappointed.

Market watchers also brooded over a veritable laundry list of worries.

These include: a weaker economic outlook in China; uncertainty over Europe's prospects after the European Central Bank offered little detail on its stimulus plan; a sharp decline in oil prices that hit energy equities; the strengthening dollar and the resulting drag on US corporate earnings; and the first diagnosis of Ebola in the US.

"With the lack of a driver to push the market higher, the market has used the negative data that's been out there to create a mini-pullback," said David Levy, portfolio manager at Kenjol Capital Management.

Cahill of Ventura Wealth Management said a "consolidation phase" has also been a factor of late. The S&P 500 gained about 30 per cent in 2013.

"It makes a lot of sense to spend some time consolidating the gains," he said. "Last year was a phenomenal year." Both Levy and Cahill said the upcoming earnings period will be important in determining what the last stretch of 2014 brings.

Companies in the S&P 500 are projected to report earnings 6.8 per cent higher than a year ago, according to S&P Capital IQ.

Major corporate stories this week included General Motors's release of an ambitious plan to achieve overall pre-tax profit margins of between 9.0-10.0 per cent by the early 2020s.

GM forecasts huge sales increases in China, the return of Europe to profitability in 2016 and higher profit margins in the US following new vehicle launches and cost-cutting.

GM finished the week 1.8 per cent higher. Rival Ford Motor dropped 10.7 per cent after slashing its profit forecast.

JPMorgan Chase (-0.4 per cent) disclosed that information such as names and addresses for 76 million household customers and seven million businesses was compromised in a data breach this summer, making it one of the biggest hacking episodes ever.

But the largest US bank said there was no evidence that critical account information such as account numbers, user identities or social security numbers were stolen by the hackers.

In deal news, News Corp. (-5.2 per cent) announced it would buy online real estate listings company Move for US$950 million, while Encana (unchanged) unveiled a US$7.1 billion transaction to acquire Texas oil and gas producer Athlon Energy.

Next week's agenda includes quarterly earnings from Alcoa, as well as the release of minutes from the US Federal Reserve's September meeting. - AFP

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