The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) suffered a startling opening bell sell-off on Thursday, diving as 450 points after initial jobless claims once again came in worse than expected.
While the stock market did rally back with a stunning late morning surge, the initial push lower raises an uncomfortable question for Dow Jones bulls. Is the stock market’s immunity to ugly economic data beginning to wear off?
The Dow swung wildly during the Thursday morning session, starting the day in free-fall before mounting an equally steep recovery.
By 11:08 am ET, the Dow had erased nearly all of its losses. The index last traded at 23,229.56 for a decline of just 18.41 points or 0.08%.
The S&P 500 and Nasdaq reported losses of 0.4% and 0.6%, respectively. All three stock market benchmarks remain on track to record steep weekly losses.
Thursday’s volatility followed the release of another batch of ugly jobless claims data, which revealed that 2.981 million people had filed for unemployment insurance last week.
That figure was an improvement on the previous week’s ~3.2 million claims, but it still exceeded economist estimates. Worse still, it brought the total number of claims since the coronavirus pandemic struck the U.S. to a stomach-churning 36.5 million.
The stock market has been relatively unfazed by the labor market implosion for a simple reason. It was entirely predictable.
But with jobless claim numbers exceeding economist estimates week after week, the sheer volume of the damage may be weighing on risk appetite.
As Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance, explained in a comment shared with CCN.com.
The stock market has given the bad economic data a pass ever since the Federal Reserve and Federal government stepped in with massive amounts of stimulus in March, but the tide seems to be turning and markets could take another leg lower as the headline numbers continue to jolt investors.
Analysts say it’s a positive sign that new claims are slowing – and have been trending lower for six straight weeks – but it’s not easy to maintain an optimistic outlook when the “good news” is that “only” 3 million people filed unemployment claims last week.
And it’s even harder to be bullish when you consider that nearly as many Americans have been laid off during the last two months as during the entirety of the 18-month-long Great Recession.
The Dow may have surged off its lows on Thursday, but the index’s overall mid-May downturn could reflect a shift in investor optimism about the economic recovery.
The stock market is not the economy, but mom-and-pop investors don’t always realize that. And the data show that most Americans haven’t been heeding warnings that the U.S. economy could take years to recover back to pre-pandemic levels.
JPMorgan’s “recovery risk” model estimates that there’s just a 20% chance that the economy enters a new expansion within the next three months. But the S&P 500 has priced in an 83% probability that the economy will achieve that feat.
This stunning divergence was reflected in the Fed’s latest consumer expectations survey, which found that Americans were more significantly bullish on the stock market in April than they had ever been since the bank introduced the survey seven years ago.
It will be telling to see whether those levels hold when the May results arrive.