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S&P 500 snaps 5-day losing streak, Dow ends 180 points higher as labor market appears to weaken

By Isabel Wang and Joseph Adinolfi

U.S. stocks finished higher on Thursday, with the S&P 500 ending its longest losing streak in two months, after weekly data showed continuing jobless-benefit claims rose to the highest levels since February, suggesting economic growth may be slowing and inflation moderating ahead of next week's Federal Reserve policy meeting.

How stocks traded

The S&P 500 declined 7 points, or 0.19%, to 3934, on Wednesday, cementing a five-day losing streak -- its longest since Oct. 12.

What drove markets

Investors were encouraged by weekly U.S. jobs data Thursday showing the number of continuing jobless-benefit claims rose to the highest level since February, which was interpreted as reducing some of the pressure on the Federal Reserve to continue to raise interest rates, said Richard Farr, chief market strategist at Merion Capital Group.

"The small increase in unemployment claims may be viewed by some as a reason to reduce recession odds," Farr said.

The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits in early December rose slightly to 230,000, which was exactly in line with the Dow Jones estimate. Meanwhile, the number of people already collecting unemployment benefits, rose by 62,000 to 1.67 million, the highest reading since February. The weekly numbers pointed to a slow but steady increase in layoffs as the U.S. economy weakens.

See: U.S. jobless claims climb to 230,000 in sign labor market may be slowly cooling off

Some economists suggest that it is too early to interpret higher jobless claims as a signal of a loosening labor market because seasonal issues could make it difficult to assess.

"Weak hiring during the holidays and weak incentives for workers to begin a new job around the holidays help push continuing claims higher from Thanksgiving through to New Year's," wrote Isfar Munir, U.S. economist at Citi, in a Thursday note. "While continuing claims have been rising for a few weeks now, the usual seasonal pattern prevent us from drawing any clear conclusions from the jobless claims data."

Treasury yields edged up Thursday though with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising 8.5 basis points to 3.492%, although yields were still lower than they were at the start of the month.

Recent moves in markets suggested that "recession risks have started to overshadow inflation in the eyes of investors," said Marios Hadjikyriacos, senior investment analyst at XM.

Read: Financial markets are flashing a warning that a recession is imminent: here's what it means for stocks

Investors have been focused on the U.S. labor market lately. Last week, data showing hotter-than-expected acceleration in wage growth, along with a more robust labor market, sent stocks sharply lower as investors surmised that the Fed's efforts to counter inflation were not having their intended effect.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has repeatedly said that unemployment will likely need to rise in order for the Fed to succeed in suppressing the worst inflationary wave in four decades. The Fed is expected to hike interest rates by 50 basis points when it meets next week from December 13-14.

See: JPMorgan looks at 'Armageddon scenario' of Fed jacking rates up to 6.5%. Its conclusion may come as a surprise

Next week's November consumer price index should also provide more clarity on the direction of inflation and how much further the central bank will need to raise rates to control inflation.

Which companies were in focus

--Steve Goldstein contributed reporting to this article.

-Isabel Wang

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

12-08-22 1625ET

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