Gloomy jobs data hits stocks

US stocks fell last week, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average to its longest streak of losses since 2004, after worse-than-estimated reports on jobs and manufacturing fuelled concern that earnings growth will slow.

All 10 Standard & Poor's 500 Index groups dropped, with declines exceeding 1.3 per cent. The S&P 500 lost 2.3 per cent to 1300.16, the biggest weekly decline since August.

Its five-week losing streak is the longest since 2008 and puts the index at its lowest level since March. The Dow fell 290.32 points, or 2.3 per cent, to 12,151.26, also posting a fifth-straight weekly slump.

"It was a C-minus week for the economy," said David Sowerby, a Michigan-based money manager.

"These are the kind of weeks that remind investors stocks don't just go straight up. There was enough data this week to begin to connect the dots that uncertainty remains."

The S&P 500 has retreated 4.7 per cent since closing at an almost-three-year high of 1363.61 on April 29.

The Citigroup Economic Surprise Index for the US has sunk to minus 117.20, meaning reports are missing projections by the most since January 2009, two months before the S&P 500 tumbled to the lowest level in 12 years.

Labor Department figures showed payrolls increased by 54,000 last month, falling short of a survey that called for a rise of 165,000.

The jobless rate climbed to 9.1 per cent.

Fund manager Michael Shaoul said that while the payrolls report was disappointing, it may also be a signal the slowdown in the economic data is near its peak.

Private-sector hiring has risen by an average 145,000 a month over the last year, faster than economists had predicted, said Shaoul.

He noted that weaker nonfarm payrolls reports in February and July 2004 failed to derail the last bull market, which peaked in October 2007.

"What the data will do, however, is accelerate the process of economic revision, with estimates of US growth being forced significantly lower across the board," Shaoul said.

"As damaging as the process may be for asset values, it has surprisingly little to do with the actual ability of corporations to generate revenue."

The biggest decline in the S&P 500 since August is creating a buying opportunity for investors, according to Blackstone Group's Byron Wien.

The price-to-earnings ratio for the S&P 500 has fallen close to its lowest level this year.

The index currently trades at 14.8 times earnings, near this year's low of 14.7 when it fell in March after Japan's earthquake.

"Investors should be looking for buying opportunities," said Wien.

"The economy is not as bad as it looks right now. Corporate profits will be good, very good.

"People are asking me, 'Do you still think the market can get to 1500 by the end of the year?' I do."

The S&P 500 tumbled the most since August on June 1, following an ADP Employer Services' jobs report that trailed estimates and data from the Institute for Supply Management that showed manufacturing expanding at the lowest pace in more than a year.

A separate report last week showed that more Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits.

- BLOOMBERG

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