New York Wall Street ended its worst week this year with a sharp selloff on Friday after a slowdown in job creation in the world's top economy raised the biggest question mark yet about the prospects for US growth.
Employers reduced hiring for the third straight month, adding 115,000 workers in April, well below forecasts of 170,000. Traders' expectations had fallen during the week, but the softer jobs number missed even more pessimistic forecasts.
Energy shares were the worst performers, with the S&P energy index down 2.2 per cent on fears a worsening economy would sap demand. US crude oil fell 4 per cent, dropping below $100 a barrel for the first time since February.
The sharp retreat last week was a blow to investors who had been hoping the S&P 500 would break out to new recovery highs. The index is now moving away from strong resistance at the 1,400 level after failing to make a convincing move above it.
‘When we entered the second quarter, we thought it would be a consolidation/correction quarter for the market simply because it was overbought, over-believed, and we saw economies were not improving, and that is still the case,'' said Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist of Robert W. Baird & Co in Nashville.
For the week, the S&P 500 lost 2.4 per cent, its worst weekly performance since December.
Investors were also cautious ahead of elections in France and Greece over the weekend as European policy-makers struggle to bring an end to their debt crisis and people rebel against the strain of austerity measures.
The utility sector index, considered a defensive play, was the only S&P 500 sector in positive territory, up 0.2 per cent. Shares of CenterPoint Energy led, up 1.7 per cent at $20.05.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 168.32 points, or 1.27 per cent, to 13,038.27 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index lost 22.47 points, or 1.61 per cent, to 1,369.10. The Nasdaq Composite fell 67.96 points, or 2.25 per cent, to 2,956.34.
The selloff came on the highest volume in two weeks. Around 7.02 billion shares were traded on the NYSE, the Nasdaq and the NYSE Amex, above the daily average of 6.76 billion. On the NYSE, decliners outnumbered advancers by a ratio of 3 to 1. On the Nasdaq, four stocks fell for every one that rose.
In the oil sector, Chevron Corp dropped 2.1 per cent to $103.72 while Exxon Mobil Corp slipped 1.3 per cent to $84.57. Both ranked among the Dow's top losers, along with other big names in economically sensitive sectors.
With last week's retreat, much of the S&P 500's gains from the move off the April closing low at 1,358.59 have been erased. The market has found support around that level in the past, but a breach there could take it back to 1,340.
Also dampening the mood on Friday, surveys showed the Eurozone's economy worsened markedly in April and suggested a recession may be deeper than previously thought. The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index slid 1.7 per cent to close at 1,027.15. ‘‘People were too optimistic about Europe. They felt the recession was going to be shallow and short, and I felt it would be deep and long, and that is still my posture," Bittles said.
Russian shares plunged 4 per cent, wiping out this year's gains in the benchmark MICEX index, as demand for risk assets waned and oil prices hit the rouble currency.
The Russian stock market is the only one of the BRICs countries to be in the red for the year.
Among individual stocks, LinkedIn Corp jumped 7.2 per cent to $117.30 after the social networking website raised its outlook and smashed revenue and profit expectations.
First Solar Inc fell 6.3 per cent to $16.94 and was the biggest decliner in the Nasdaq 100. The US solar panel maker posted an unexpected quarterly loss on Thursday, prompting analysts to lower their price targets.
Estee Lauder Cos Inc dropped 5.3 per cent to $60.72 after the company gave a profit forecast that disappointed Wall Street.
Of the 415 companies in the S&P 500 index reporting results, 67.5 per cent have exceeded estimates, according to Thomson Reuters data through Friday morning. That is a sharp decline from the start of earnings season when more than 80 per cent of companies were beating forecasts.
Dole Food Co Inc said it may spin off one or more units, sending its shares up 7.7 per cent to $9.39.