US stocks close lower for third straight week on rate concerns

US stocks had another bruising week, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite ending the day down 1.3 per cent to mark a sixth consecutive daily decline in its longest losing streak in more than three years. The blue-chip S&P 500 index fell 1.1 per cent on Friday, pushing it down 3.3 per cent for the week. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq have declined for three weeks in a row. The moves came after US labour department data showed a slight uptick in the unemployment rate and a slower pace of jobs growth, to 315,000 in August from 526,000 the previous month. The details failed to assuage concerns that the Federal Reserve will continue to sharply raise interest rates as it combats inflation.Jobs data have been closely scrutinised in recent months for clues about how aggressively the Fed will tighten monetary policy, with evidence of a hotter labour market fuelling expectations of larger and faster interest rate rises. Conversely, indications of cooling jobs activity have helped to reduce projections of how far the Fed will opt to increase borrowing costs, as it strives to strike a balance between quelling rapid price growth and pushing the US economy even further into a protracted slowdown. “The labour market is moving in the right direction for policymakers,” said Jeffrey Roach, chief economist for LPL Financial. “An uptick in unemployment along with a modest increase in the participation rate means that the labour market in August is less tight than it was in July.”Stocks initially rose on the news of the jobs report but by mid-morning began reversing those gains. The decline accelerated around lunchtime in New York after Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy group, said it would close the Nord Stream gas pipeline indefinitely in a move that will probably exacerbate a squeeze on Europe’s energy supplies.“News that Russia would keep the Nord Stream pipeline shut (was slated to resume deliveries tomorrow) due to ‘mechanical issues’ helped to pull [stocks] back into the red,” wrote Citi strategist Bill O’Donnell.The three-week drop in US stocks gained steam after the Fed’s annual symposium in Jackson Hole last week at which chair Jay Powell reiterated the central bank’s commitment to taming inflation, saying they “must keep at it until the job is done”.Expectations for Fed rate increases cooled slightly after Friday’s jobs report, with trading in federal funds futures suggesting markets expect the central bank to raise its main rate to 3.83 per cent by March 2023 from a projection of 3.95 per cent at the close on Thursday. But the rate would still mark a significant uptick from the Fed’s current target range of 2.25 to 2.50 per cent, with broad repercussions for the US economy.Although bets on the size of the Fed’s next interest rate increase in September have dropped slightly, overall expectations are still closer to 0.75 percentage points than to 0.5 percentage points. “While some doors for hiring are closing, with a modestly slowing payroll growth number, it clearly is at a fast enough pace to provide the Federal Reserve the open door to pursue its top priority, lower rates of current inflation,” said Rick Rieder, BlackRock’s chief investment officer of global fixed income. In government debt markets, the yield on the 10-year US Treasury note fell 0.6 percentage points to 3.2 per cent. The policy-sensitive two-year yield dropped 0.1 percentage points to 3.4 per cent, having this week touched its highest point in 15 years. Bond yields rise as their prices fall.Elsewhere, European shares extended their gains after the jobs data release, with the regional Stoxx 600 index adding 2 per cent — putting the brakes on five straight days of declines.

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