Stocks close lower after US jobs report, snap 3-week winning streak

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U.S. equities closed lower in choppy trade on Friday as Wall Street digested a weaker-than-expected employment report and kept an eye on falling oil prices.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 119.15 points at session lows before holding 10 points lower, with United Technologies and Home Depot contributing the most losses.

“I think that, after a number of days in which oil has risen on expectations of an OPEC deal, some investors are beginning to rethink the likelihood of a deal,” said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones. “For the past few days, we’ve seen some intraday volatility, especially in international markets. Given what happened with the pound overnight, I think investors are consolidating some positions.”

U.S. crude extended losses around late-morning ET, and settled 63 cents lower at $49.81 per barrel. Gold futures traded slightly higher in afternoon ET, before settling lower.

“Crude came off; gold came off; Treasurys came off. I think those reversals in the macro markets certainly spooked investors a little bit,” said Jeremy Klein, chief market strategist at FBN Securities, soon after the Dow hit session lows. “It’s fairly thin out there. You’ve got a three-day weekend. The bond guys are off, but we’re not.”

The S&P 500 traded 0.25 percent lower, with materials falling more than 1.5 percent to lead decliners. The Nasdaq composite held 0.26 percent lower. The three major indexes had traded higher shortly after the open, and were on track to snap a three-week winning streak.

“I do think stocks could be under pressure, given that it’s Friday and Monday is Columbus Day, which is a banking holiday,” said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade.

The U.S. economy added 156,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate ticked up to 5.0 percent, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected 176,000 new jobs and the jobless rate to hold at 4.9 percent. The total was a decline from the upwardly revised 167,000 jobs in August (compared to the original number of 151,000).

“It’s kind of a good number, and it’s not a bad number,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities. “If you drill down below the headline, did wages go up? Yes. Did hours go up? Yes. Did participation go up? Yes. That’s what makes it good. What would’ve made it great? A number above 200,000.”

Average hourly wages pushed higher, rising 6 cents to an annualized rate of 2.6 percent. The average work week also inched up one-tenth to 34.4 hours.

“Looking at the jobs picture, it was a bit disappointing, but I do think that wasn’t unexpected,” said Chris Benson, senior vice president at Pontoon. He said the labor market tends to slow down in the second half of the year.

“I think it’s just enough to keep thing simmering along,” said Tom Siomades, head of Hartford Funds Investment Consulting Group. “It’s not so strong it puts November on the table, but it’s not so bad that it takes December off the table. It’s at room temperature, for lack of a better term.”

Market expectations for a December rate hike were above 60 percent following the report’s release, according to the CME Group’s FedWatch tool.

“We’re convinced, regardless of this number and any number afterwards, the Fed is going to raise rates in December. The Fed is hellbent on getting the funds rate back to 1 percent before the economy rolls over,” said Phil Orlando, chief equity strategist at Federated Investors.

U.S. stock futures had traded slightly lower ahead of the report’s release. After the data came out, Dow futures traded approximately 20 points higher, while S&P and Nasdaq futures traded half a point higher and 0.75 points higher, respectively.

“All in all, … it’s almost like we’re seeing the last two months being repeated,” TD Ameritrade’s Kinahan said about the jobs report. “Everyone is saying this doesn’t change anything. If you ask the Fed, they would take an unchanged jobs report because it strengthens their case to raise rates.

Elsewhere on the data front, the Commerce Department said August wholesale inventories fell more than previously reported in August.

Investors also kept an eye on the British pound, which fell more than 6 percent in two minutes against the dollar overnight, hitting fresh 31-year lows.

“The cause of the crash in the pound is still unknown, with a number of factors probably at play including a fat finger trade, very low liquidity, a large number of stops being triggered and algorithms exacerbating the move,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a note.

“While the pound has recovered a large majority of its losses, it continues to trade well below yesterday’s levels which just goes to show how pessimistic people are about the UK economy in a week in which people have come to realise that a hard Brexit, or something that resembles it, is not just a possibility but a probability,” he said.

Sterling traded approximately 1.4 percent lower in afternoon ET, near $1.243. Reuters reported the British currency had fallen as low as $1.1491 on some trading platforms.

Also on Friday’s agenda were a number of Federal Reserve officials scheduled to speak, including Fed Governor Lael Brainard.

Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said Friday’s jobs report was “pretty close” to a “Goldilocks” number. Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” the jobs report was “solid,” adding it’s time for the U.S. central bank to raise interest rates.

U.S. Treasurys traded mixed, with the two-year note yield around 0.84 percent and the benchmark 10-year yield at 1.73 percent. The U.S. dollar slipped against a basket of currencies, with the euro near $1.118 and the yen around 103.03.

“I think it was a reaction to the jobs report,” said Kathy Jones, chief fixed income strategist at Charles Schwab. “I thought it was a pretty good report, to tell you the truth. I’m surprised by how some people are down-playing it.”

The Dow Jones industrial average traded 16 points lower, or 0.09 percent, at 18,250, with Home Depot leading decliners and Goldman Sachs the top advancer.

The S&P 500 fell 6 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,153, with materials leading nine sectors lower and utilities and telecommunications the only risers.

The Nasdaq slipped 18 points, or 0.35 percent, to 5,288.

About three stocks declined for every advancer at the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 452 million and a composite volume of 2.144 billion in afternoon trade.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near 13.4.

Gold futures for December delivery rose $2 to $1,255 per ounce.

High-frequency trading accounted for 52 percent of October’s daily trading volume of about 6.71 billion shares, according to TABB Group. During the peak levels of high-frequency trading in 2009, about 61 percent of 9.8 billion of average daily shares traded were executed by high-frequency traders.

Fred Imbert

—CNBC’s Jeff Cox contributed to this report.

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