Wall Street falls as coronavirus ends record job growth

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s main indexes fell on Friday as the longest period of employment growth on record in the United States came to an abrupt end, with data showing that hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs last month due to the coronavirus.

The Labor Department’s report confirmed that a recession was underway as business activity came to a standstill, but investors fear it did not reflect the full extent of the economic pain as the survey considered data until mid-March.

With the S&P 500 down about 25% from its mid-February record highs, or nearly $7 trillion in market value, analysts said the magnitude of the decline in payrolls had been priced in to a large degree.

“The market already knew that job losses recently have been historic and tremendous,” said Russell Price, chief economist at Ameriprise Financial Services Inc in Troy, Michigan.

“We are coming to terms with just how significant this is going to be. The data will be very bad before it gets much worse in April and May, before we start seeing improvements.”

The worldwide spread of the virus has forced billions of people to stay indoors and pushed entire sectors to the brink of collapse, leading to mass layoffs and dramatic steps by companies to raise cash.

Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) said on Thursday it would furlough some U.S. employees this month, while sources said luxury retailer Neiman Marcus was stepping up preparations to seek bankruptcy protection.

Disney’s shares fell 3.5%, while Under Armour (UAA.N) shed 3% after saying it would temporarily lay off employees at its U.S. stores.

Economists have cut their forecasts for U.S. GDP, with Morgan Stanley now predicting a 38% contraction in the second quarter.

Analysts also expect company profits to fall as earnings season begin, but said actual numbers from the quarter will likely be given little importance.

“There’s really very little that you can take away from (earnings) other than some insights to actually how are these businesses set up to weather the pandemic and where will they be once it begins to show signs of passing,” Robert Pavlik, chief investment strategist at SlateStone Wealth LLC in New York.

At 11:32 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 350.97 points, or 1.64%, at 21,062.47, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 38.02 points, or 1.50%, at 2,488.88 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 101.57 points, or 1.36%, at 7,385.74.

Raytheon Technologies Corp RTX.N, formed by the merger of United Technologies and Raytheon Co, shed 6.5% as it pulled 2020 outlook for its aerospace units.

Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) jumped 8% after the electric-car maker said production and deliveries of its Model Y sport utility vehicle were ahead of schedule, as it delivered the highest number of vehicles in any first quarter to date.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 4.15-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 2.83-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded no new 52-week high and eight new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded three new highs and 99 new lows.

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