US markets open flat amid unexpected rise in jobless claims

The back-to-back increase in claims for state unemployment benefits is the first since July and signals the slowing of the labour market’s recovery.

A surge in United States coronavirus cases and new lockdown measures in some communities have led to more layoffs, leading to a muted opening for Wall Street Wednesday [File: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

Wall Street’s main indexes were muted at the open on Wednesday as a surprise jump in the United States’s weekly jobless claims added to signs the recovery of the labour market was stalling amid a surge in COVID-19 infections.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose just 12.63 points, or 0.04 percent, at the open to 30,058.87.

The S&P 500 opened flat at 3,635.50, while the Nasdaq Composite gained 17.11 points, or 0.14 percent, to 12,053.89 at the opening bell.

The number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits totalled a seasonally adjusted 778,000 for the week ended November 21, compared with 748,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 730,000 applications.

“There is some concern that the labour market is taking a step backwards as opposed to forward on the heels of stimulus having run out and no more stimulus packages in the offing,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Investment Management in Chicago.

Even though there is no fiscal stimulus in sight, hopes of a vaccine and recent data suggesting business activity would bounce back next year have lifted Wall Street’s main indexes to record highs and set the benchmark S&P 500 on course for its best November ever.

Market participants said they expected US stocks to climb even higher, with a recent Reuters poll showing the S&P 500 is poised to rise 9 percent between now and the end of 2021. The index has surged 66 percent since the coronavirus-led crash in March and is up about 12.5 percent so far this year.

As investors returned to cyclical sectors – such as industrials and energy, which are set to benefit most from an economic recovery, the S&P value index gained about 11 percent this month after underperforming the benchmark index all year.

Shares of major US banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup were down between 0.5 percent and 1.7 percent in premarket trading, while technology heavyweights Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp gained about 0.4 percent.

Trading volumes are expected to be light in advance of the Thanksgiving Day holiday on Thursday.

Among individual stocks, Gap Inc fell 11.5 percent in premarket trading as the apparel retailer missed quarterly profit expectations on Tuesday.

Moderna Inc gained 1.2 percent after securing a vaccine supply deal with the European Union.

Source: Reuters