The US economy added 273,000 jobs in February, much higher than economists had expected. The unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, an all-time low.
The strong data isn’t boosting markets, however. Goldman Sachs notes that the survey period in mid-February was “too early to show a meaningful impact of the coronavirus outbreak on hiring.” Dow futures are still down 725 points, or 2.9%.
The S&P 500 fell another 3.4% on Thursday, erasing a large chunk of its gains after Joe Biden’s victories on Super Tuesday. The yield on the 10-year US Treasury note, which moves opposite prices, touched another record low of 0.695% on Friday. The VIX, a measure of volatility in the stock market, has spiked to its highest level since 2011.
The US jobs market has been a bright spot for investors in recent months, especially those who believe that the fundamentals of America’s economy remain solid. But concern is on the rise that employment could be hit by a prolonged slowdown or recession.
“The labor market has been the pillar of strength in the US economy,” Morgan Stanley chief US economist Ellen Zentner told clients this week. “However, stock market sell-offs, weakening global demand, strained supply chains, and heightened economic uncertainty will weigh on business sentiment and their ability to weather the storm.”
Meanwhile, the prospect of US stocks falling into a bear market is on the rise. The S&P 500 is back in correction territory, down 10.7% from a record high notched in mid-February.
“The viral correction could easily approach bear-market territory within the next few days given the pandemic of fear,” Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, told clients on Friday.
JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon recovering from heart surgery
In a letter to employees, shareholders and clients, Dimon’s two deputies — Gordon Smith and Daniel Pinto — said the chief executive experienced an “acute aortic dissection,” or a tear in the inner lining of the aorta, that required surgery on Thursday morning.
The board has directed Smith and Pinto to take the reins of the largest US bank while Dimon recovers.
Investor insight: Shares are down nearly 4% in premarket trading. That’s in line with other US bank stocks, which have come under severe pressure as the coronavirus spreads around the globe. Investors think the Federal Reserve will need to keep cutting interest rates, which hurts the profit banks make from lending. They’re also worried about a US recession that would lead to a spike in loan losses.
On Thursday, the KBW Bank Index fell into a bear market. It’s now 23% below its recent peak in early January.
Dimon, who has led JPMorgan since 2005, is one of the most powerful people on Wall Street. “There is no more feared or revered person today in the world of finance,” Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, management professor at Yale University, told CNN Business.
OPEC’s big bet isn’t helping oil prices
OPEC is hoping to slash the supply of crude oil to world markets by 1.5 million barrels per day in an attempt to prop up prices. But the bid, which still needs sign-on from Russia, hasn’t reassured markets. Brent crude futures, the global benchmark, plunged deeper into bear market territory on Friday.
The details: On Thursday, the cartel unveiled a plan to reduce output among its 13 members by 1 million barrels per day, and said it would seek an additional 500,000 barrels per day in cuts from longstanding allies, including Russia.
But Russia, the cartel’s main partner, still has to agree to the deal, according to Iran’s oil minister. The oil producers are meeting Friday in Vienna.
OPEC initially said the new cuts would run through June, but after a series of late night meetings Thursday, the cartel said they should continue until the end of 2020. Existing cuts of 2.1 million barrels per day by OPEC and Russia would also be extended through the end of the year under the plan.
The US jobs report for February, which includes wage data and the unemployment rate, arrives at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Coming next week: The European Central Bank is expected to follow the Federal Reserve and cut interest rates, a bid to provide markets with extra liquidity amid growing concerns about the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.