NEW YORK –
Stocks are drifting Thursday as reports on the U.S. economy painted a mixed outlook.
The S&P 500 was 0.1% lower in early trading after eking out a third straight winning month. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 133 points, or 0.4%, at 32,775, as of 9:45 a.m. Eastern time, while the Nasdaq composite was 0.1% lower.
One positive for the market came late Wednesday when the House of Representatives approved a deal to prevent a possibly catastrophic default on the U.S. government’s debt. But that was what Wall Street expected, and only a trip-up for the deal before it gets signed by President Joe Biden would likely cause big waves for stocks.
Markets are more concerned about whether the economy will fall into a recession before inflation recedes enough to convince the Federal Reserve to take it easier on interest rates.
Reports on Thursday morning gave a clouded view. One said that fewer workers applied for unemployment benefits last week than expected, while another suggested employers added more workers to their payrolls last month than forecast.
Both those are good news for workers and for the overall economy, which has been slowing under the weight of much higher interest rates. But a strong job market could also keep pressure up on inflation, pushing the Fed to keep rates high.
On the flip side, a report said that labor costs during the first three months of the year rose less than expected. That could mean less pressure on inflation.
Following the reports, traders were largely betting on the Fed to hold rates steady at its next meeting in two weeks. That would be the first time in more than a year that it hasn’t hiked rates, and it’s something a Fed official hinted may happen a day earlier.
But traders see the Fed following up that possible pause with another hike to rates at its next meeting in July. High rates work to lower inflation by slowing the economy and hurting prices for stocks and other investments.
Manufacturing has been hit particularly hard, and a report later Thursday morning will give the latest monthly update on the industry.
Despite such worries, the U.S. stock market has held up this year. But that’s largely because of gains for a small handful of big tech stocks and others swept up in a building frenzy around AI. That’s pushed the S&P 500 to a gain this year even when the majority of stocks have fallen.
Some of that enthusiasm cooled after C3.ai gave a forecast for revenue this upcoming fiscal year that failed to wow Wall Street like Nvidia’s did last week. C3.ai said it expects to make between $295 million and $320 million, versus analysts’ expectations of roughly $317 million.
C3.ai tumbled 21.8%, though it’s still up more than 179% so far this year. Nvidia rose 2.8%.
Dollar General dropped 16.7% after it reported weaker profit and revenue for the latest quarter than analysts expected. It said the economic environment has been more challenging than it expected, and it cut its financial forecasts for the full year.
Macy’s fell 2.8% after it slashed expectations for the year and fell short on sales and profit in the first quarter. It said shoppers began to pull back starting in March. That trend seems to be afflicting retailers across the spectrum.
On the winning end was Hormel Foods, which rose 5.8% after reporting stronger profit for the latest quarter than expected.
In the bond market, the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 3.59% from 3.65% late Wednesday. It helps set rates for mortgages and other loans that influence the economy’s strength.
The two-year Treasury yield, which moves more on expectations for the Fed, fell to 4.36% from 4.40%.
In Europe, stock indexes were modestly higher after a report showed that inflation there took a positive turn, falling to 6.1%, though prices are still squeezing shoppers who are yet to see real relief in what they pay for food and other necessities.
Germany’s DAX was 0.7% higher, while France’s CAC 40 rose 0.1%.
Asian markets were mixed as worries remain about a weaker-than-expected recovery for the Chinese economy.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.1%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.8%.
AP Business Writer Yuri Kageyama and Matt Ott contributed