The last jobs report before the election was supposed to be the big market-moving news on Friday. But President Trump’s stunning announcement that he and First Lady Melania have tested positive for Covid-19 changed all of that.
Stocks around the globe tumbled after Trump tweeted the news, which injected yet another whopping dose of uncertainty into the market. The Dow finished the day down nearly 135 points, a loss of 0.5%.
The S&P 500 fell 1% and tech stocks were hit particularly hard. The Nasdaq was down 2.2%.
But the stock market drop was not as bad as some had feared. Futures were pointing to a bigger decline before the market opened Friday.
“My knee-jerk reaction to the Trump news is that I’m pleasantly surprised by how little reaction there has been in stocks. The fact that the market is not down much more, especially given the mediocre jobs report, is a good sign,” said Mark Hackett, chief of investment research at Nationwide.
The US government said Friday morning that 661,000 jobs were added in September as the economy slowly recovers from the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic this spring. But that was a smaller jobs bump than economists were expecting.
The unemployment rate fell to 7.9% — down from 8.4% in August, and also lower than Wall Street’s forecast of 8.2%
Investors are frantically trying to figure out what Trump’s diagnosis will mean for the upcoming election and for the possibility of more economic stimulus from Washington.
Stocks fell in September — the first monthly drop since March. But the major indexes still posted solid gains for the third quarter. They are all still higher for the week as well, rising nearly 2% over the past five days despite Friday’s losses.
Recent layoff announcements from blue chip companies like Coca-Cola (KO), Allstate (ALL) and Goldman Sachs (GS), as well as from major airlines, are also a discouraging sign. The job market and broader economy may be losing steam.
“There may be a V-shaped recovery for stocks, but look at the economic recovery and the true reality for Americans is that it’s L-shaped,” said Alex Piré, market strategist for Natixis Investment Managers. “The jobs report shows that there is still a need to provide more stimulus.”
Congress may be waiting to see if Trump is re-elected or if Joe Biden defeats him next month before deciding on another stimulus package. There is also the possibility that the Senate could shift from Republican control to a Democratic majority. That may be jeopardizing stimulus talks too.
But Patrick Leary, chief market strategist with Incapital, said that now is not the time for partisan politics. He argues that the market could have at least a 5% pullback if the White House and Capitol Hill don’t reach a new agreement on more financial aid soon.
Wall Street was watching health care stocks closely Friday too, as the need for a coronavirus vaccine becomes even more pressing. Shares of Pfizer (PFE), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), AstraZeneca (AZN), Novavax (NVAX) and Moderna (MRNA) were mostly flat though.
Oil prices also sank more than 4% Friday, while the yield on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury bond edged a bit higher. But gold prices dipped.
Gold often rallies when investors are nervous, so the fact that it didn’t spike Friday may be a sign that investors are taking the news about Trump’s health as well as the jobs report in stride.
“Gold prices are down. If there was really a big ‘risk-off’ type of trade taking place today, you’d have this big flight to safety and gold going up,” said Andrew Slimmon, managing director and senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley Investment Management.
“The market had already pulled back enough in September that even though the Trump news was an unexpected event, the hot air has already been taken out of stocks,” Slimmon added.