Stocks were mainly flat Thursday, as markets struggled to digest brutal unemployment data that showed 6.6 million Americans filed for jobless benefits last week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened the day down by around 120 points, with the S&P and the Nasdaq lower by about 0.5 percent each.
“More than any other economic data point, the unprecedented and massive level of more than 6.6 million new jobless claims captures the recent, heartbreaking financial devastation related to the coronavirus outbreak and measures aimed at containing it,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com.
Wall Street had surged earlier in the day, on news that oil producers Saudi Arabia and Russia might put aside their differences in their price war. That boosted trader confidence slightly, though the brutal plunge in demand has pushed down the price of crude oil to levels not seen since the 1990s.
Focus now turns to Friday’s monthly employment snapshot from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, though that data will not capture the nation’s extreme job loss in the second half of March.
“With nearly 10 million total new claims reported over the past couple of weeks, the backward-looking March jobs report will be anti-climactic, given that the survey week occurred early last month. It will take some time for the monthly data to catch up to what’s really happening,” Hamrick said.
All three major averages were down on Wednesday, the first day of the new quarter, after President Donald Trump warned that the U.S. could be facing “hell” as the pandemic continues to disrupt the fabric of American life, closing schools, factories and businesses across the country, leaving more and more Americans without work.
“We’ve lived through the recession and 9/11. What we’re seeing with this decline is actually worse than both of those events,” said Irina Novoselsky, CEO of online jobs marketplace CareerBuilder.