NEW YORK (AP) — When jobs fall, the stock market follows.
That was the message investors sent Wednesday, when they ignored a few flashes of positive news about the economy and instead homed in on troubling reports about jobs in the U.S. and Europe.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 39 points to 13,240 in the early afternoon. That erased more than half of its gains from the day before, when investors chose to focus on a couple of positive reports on U.S. manufacturing and sent the Dow to its highest level in more than four years.
The back-and-forth underscored how inconsistent the market can be. Karyn Cavanaugh, market strategist with ING Investment Management in New York, said she expects the market to rise overall for the rest of the year, despite some short pullbacks. Companies are in the midst of reporting first-quarter earnings and the growth so far has been greater than expected, which makes some investors optimistic about the longer-term prospects.
“The market has room to run,” Cavanaugh said. “But it doesn’t always go up in a straight line.”
The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 fell six points to 1,400. The Nasdaq composite index fell throughout the morning and was essentially flat in the early afternoon, at 3,051.
A monthly report on private sector hiring was weighing heavily on the minds of investors, who see jobs as the key ingredient to an economic recovery.
Payroll processor ADP said that U.S. businesses added 119,000 jobs in April, far lower than the 201,000 added in March. Investors will also be watching for the government’s calculations on April jobs, which are due out Friday and can vary from the ADP report.
Another jobs report from Europe underscored the gravity of the continuing debt crisis there. The 17 countries that use the euro reported that unemployment rose to 10.9 percent in March, the highest since the euro launched in 1999.
There was also good news out of Europe, though it didn’t sway investors much. Standard & Poor’s lifted Greece’s credit rating out of default, noting how the company had recently secured a massive writedown on its debt to private investors. Germany also reported that the number of people seeking work in April slipped below 3 million, a psychologically important barrier that it hasn’t broken in that month for two decades.
Markets fell across most of Europe, including Germany and Greece.
Todd Salamone, director of research for Schaeffer’s Investment Research in Cincinnati, downplayed concerns about Europe. Investors have already had a long time to digest any bad news from the continent and shouldn’t be too shaken by daily developments, even if the headlines seem panicky.
“U.S. stocks have become more resilient, especially to the European headlines,” Salamone said. “Any negative news out of Europe is not a major surprise like it was early last year.”
In U.S. stocks, one of the biggest losses came at Chesapeake Energy, which plunged 13 percent after reporting a quarterly loss. The CEO, Aubrey McClendon, has been under fire for his massive pay package, a decline in the share price, and for taking out big loans from companies that did business with Chesapeake. In an earnings call Wednesday, McClendon said he was “deeply sorry for all the distractions” but also said that “a great deal of misinformation” had been published.
The previous day, Chesapeake’s stock popped 6 percent after the company stripped McClendon of his job as board chairman.
Ascena Retail Group was an exception on an off day, shooting up more than 10 percent after announcing it will buy rival Charming Shoppes. Ascena runs dressbarn, maurices and Justice, which are clothing chains for women and girls. The purchase will add Lane Bryant, Catherines and Fashion Bug to its portfolio.
Energizer Holdings, parent of the eponymous batteries, popped 8 percent after reporting higher revenue and earnings. The company said that sales of Schick razors helped results.