Home / Markets News & Opinions / The Dow Barely Budged Because Wall Street Is Bracing for the Jobs Report

The Dow Barely Budged Because Wall Street Is Bracing for the Jobs Report

Last Updated September 23, 2020 2:02 PM
Francois Aure
Last Updated September 23, 2020 2:02 PM
  • The Dow Jones relinquished its early gains to remain little changed in late afternoon trading.
  • The Federal Reserve’s FOMC minutes failed to move the stock market.
  • Dow bulls took a breather ahead of Thursday’s blockbuster jobs report.

What could have been a negative session for the U.S. stock market turned modestly green after a Pfizer vaccine trial offset the gloomy prospect of more lockdowns. But the gains did not extend to the Dow Jones, which wobbled sideways ahead of the vital U.S. jobs report on Thursday.

Dow Jones Steady ahead of Big Jobs Data Release

Among the major U.S. stock market indices, the Nasdaq was once again the top performer, while the S&P 500 outclassed the rangebound Dow.

Dow Jones , stock market
The Dow Jones trended sideways on Wednesday as investors geared up for a massive labor report on Thursday. | Source. Yahoo Finance 

Here’s where they stood about an hour before the closing bell:

  • The Dow fell 24.7 points or 0.1% to 25,788.18.
  • The S&P 500 rallied 0.52% to 3,116.35.
  • The Nasdaq bounced 0.86% to 10,145.76.

There was plenty of economic data for investors to digest today , and most of it presented a conflicting picture of U.S. business activity.

Crude oil inventories helped boost risk appetite, as a massive 7 million barrel draw supported prices.

The ADP non-farm employment reading was positive, although it missed expectations. Manufacturing PMI did beat forecasts, but it tells us little about the actual degree of improvement – just that sentiment is on the rise.

Federal Reserve minutes  are always closely monitored on Wall Street, but they didn’t appear to have much of a discernable impact on the Dow either.

Lockdowns Threaten Recent Job Gains – But Does That Matter?

Due to the long weekend, the U.S. jobs report will be released on Thursday this month. And the anticipation for this report may be what kept the Dow in a sideways pattern on Wednesday.

Economist James Knightley at ING believes tomorrow’s reading will shoot past estimates. But he cautions that July might be a much bigger problem for stock market sentiment :

For what it is worth, we favour a modest upside surprise for tomorrow’s non-farm payrolls figure, but our confidence is low. The consensus is looking for a 3.07mn rise (range is 0.5mn to 9mn), and we are looking for something around the 4 million mark. However, we are more nervous about the July figure that will be published in early August, which could significantly disappoint markets.

Unfortunately, both the specter and the reality of fresh lockdown restrictions are weighing on the labor market.

It seems unlikely that the stock market momentum can remain so resilient in such an environment. But that was the fear in March, and look where things are now.

It may not be a coincidence that lofty valuations have coincided with the Federal Reserve becoming one of the top 5 biggest holders of bond ETFs . And the bank has started buying individual corporate bonds too:

fed bond etf, stock market, dow jones
With the Fed buying individual corporate bonds, the narrative of a central bank backstop is gaining purchase among investors. | Source: Twitter 

Whether fiction or fact, there is no doubt that even a perceived central bank backstop can be a powerful tool that policymakers can use to boost risk sentiment.

Dow 30 Stocks: Pfizer Flies on Vaccine Hopes

It was a rocky session for the Dow 30 , but things could have been a lot worse. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer provided a much-needed shot of life to the index with a 4.6% rally.

Supporting equity prices was news that its vaccine trials are showing positive signs . While merely the latest in a long line of headlines about a potential vaccine, this is the first U.S.-based one in a while.

If Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recent testimony is accurate, the earliest a vaccine could be available would be this winter . Unfortunately, if a lot of people don’t get immunized (as Fauci has warned), the overall impact could be muted.

Elsewhere in the Dow Jones, the index’s most heavily weighted stock, Apple, was its usual steady self. AAPL shares dipped just 0.15% despite news that the pandemic would force the tech giant to re-close 30 stores .