NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are bouncing between gains and losses Friday as Wall Street struggles with what to make of the latest reading on the U.S. jobs market and what it means for interest rates and the odds of a recession.
The S&P 500 was 0.3% higher in afternoon trading after seeing an earlier gain of 2.1% disappear and briefly turn into a modest loss. The latest set of market swings follows a U.S. government report showing the unemployment rate ticked higher in October, employers added fewer jobs than they had a month earlier and gains for workers' wages slowed a touch.
Stocks initially rallied as the data offered some hope that the Federal Reserve’s efforts to weaken the jobs market may be taking effect and may help lower the nation's high inflation. But the slowdown was still more modest than economists expected. And it changed very few minds, if any, about what’s going to happen next: The Fed will keep hiking interest rates toward levels rarely seen this millennium. Such moves would clamp the brakes tighter on the economy and drag on prices for stocks and other investments.
“There was this kind of gut reaction” initially to the jobs data on Wall Street, said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network: “ ‘Wow, a Goldilocks report.’ ” That led to the initial spurt for stocks, “but in reflection interest rates are still moving up,” McMillan said.
While Wall Street was chewing over the jobs report, markets around the world bounced higher amid continued speculation that China may relax its zero-COVID strategy and invigorate what's long been a major source of growth for the global economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 102 points, or 0.3%, at 32,103, as of 2:30 p.m. Eastern time, after earlier losing all of its morning gain of 610 points. The Nasdaq composite was down 0.1% after swinging between a gain of 2% and a loss of 0.8%.
Earlier this week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell called out a still-hot jobs market as one of the reasons the central bank may ultimately have to raise rates higher than earlier thought. Such moves could cause a recession, and it's why investors came into Friday with such anticipation for the U.S. government's monthly jobs report. But the data was mixed enough that Wall Street could not agree on its takeaway.
On the bright side for markets, some analysts pointed to the slight increase in the unemployment rate to 3.7% during October. That raised the possibility that September's 3.5% rate may prove to be the bottom. Big technology companies like Amazon have recently announced freezes to hiring or even layoffs to stay in step with what they see as a weakening economy. That could keep the job market from falling into what's called a “wage-price spiral," where a tight jobs market sends wages so high that it feeds into even higher inflation.
Other analysts, though, focused on the still-hot jobs market where hiring continues to top expectations. If anything, Friday's stronger-than-forecast jobs data likely means “Fed officials are going to have to step on the brakes even harder to slow this economy and bring inflation under control,” according to Russell Price, Ameriprise chief economist.
Several investors and banks raised their expectations Friday for how high the Fed will ultimately take short-term interest rates next year, with many eyeing something above 5%. That's a level the economy has experienced only rarely since 2001 and a big jolt for the federal funds rate after it began this year at virtually zero.
At fund behemoth Vanguard, the investment strategy group said all of Friday's data on jobs together offers “nothing to change Vanguard's Fed expectations” and only increases the focus on next week's update for how bad inflation was across the country in October.
Markets around the world wobbled in the minutes immediately following the release of the U.S. jobs data. The yield on the two-year Treasury, which tends to track expectations for action by the Fed, jerked up and down a few times before eventually easing.
Markets had been higher earlier in the day, in part on hopes that China may soon relax anti-COVID policies that have sometimes caused entire cities to be locked down for weeks.
Such a move could give a big boost to the global economy when aggressive interest-rate hikes by central banks from the Americas to New Zealand are raising worries about recessions around the world.
Stocks in Hong Kong surged 5.4% Friday, while stocks in Shanghai jumped 2.4%. Both markets finished the week with strong gains.
The price of copper also climbed 7.5%. A stronger Chinese economy would devour more raw materials, and shares of miner Freeport-McMoRan soared 10% for the biggest gain in the S&P 500.
Two casino companies that get much of their revenue from the gambling center of Macao on the southern coast of China were also among Wall Street's stronger stocks. Las Vegas Sands climbed 4.5%, and Wynn Resorts added 3.9%.
Stocks also rallied across Europe. France's CAC 40 rose 2.8%, and Germany's DAX returned 2.5%.
The yield on the two-year Treasury fell to 4.68% from 4.72% late Thursday. The 10-year yield, which helps dictate rates for mortgages and other loans, edged higher to 4.16% from 4.15%.
AP Business Writers Yuri Kageyama and Matt Ott contributed.