A crush of dismal data about the economy helped send markets lower Thursday, a meek ending to a historic, juggernaut month for stocks.
The S&P 500 fell 0.9% after reports showed millions more U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits last week and the European economy crumpled to its worst performance on record last quarter, among other lowlights. It was the biggest loss for the U.S. stock market in more than a week, but it was still just a wiggle within the S&P 500’s best month in decades.
The index surged 12.7% in April, its biggest monthly gain since 1987. Before Thursday’s fall, it had been on track for its best month since 1974 as stocks recouped more than half their 34% plunge from February into late March on worries about a sudden, devastating recession.
Promises from the Federal Reserve to do whatever it takes to prop up the economy through the coronavirus crisis helped spark the rally, as did trillions in spending by Congress. The rally has continued recently on optimism that economies around the world are close to reopening. All but 27 stocks in the S&P 500 climbed during April.
Thursday’s deluge of dour economic data — along with some investors looking to sell after weeks of gains — sent 86% of stocks in the S&P 500 down and European stocks sharply lower.
The S&P 500 fell 27.08 points to 2,912.43. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 288.14, or 1.2%, to 24,345.72, and the Nasdaq fell 25.16, or 0.3%, to 8,889.55.
Besides the jobless figures in the United States, which brought the total to 30 million in just six weeks, data released on Thursday showed that consumer spending plunged a record 7.5% in March from the prior month. That’s crucial for an economy where consumer spending makes up 70% of the total.
Stocks that tend to be most closely tied to the strength of the economy had the day’s biggest losses. Raw-material producers lost 3% for the largest loss among the 11 sectors that make up the S&P 500. Financial and energy stocks were close behind.
Some big tech titans reported results for the first quarter that weren’t as bad as investors had braced for, which helped limit the market’s losses. Facebook rose 5.4% after it reported trends in advertising revenue stabilized in April following a steep drop-off in March. Microsoft added 1% after reporting better-than-expected results for the first quarter.
Among European countries that use the euro, the economy shrank by 3.8% in the first three months of the year from the quarter before — the biggest contraction since records began in 1995. Discouraging data also came in on China’s economy, which is concerning for anyone expecting a first-in-first-out economic wave.
“As we look to reopening here in the U.S., the hope is that activity bounces,” Haworth said. “China is certainly ahead of us in reopening and for them not to have a bounce a full month in is … concerning for the market.”
The yield on the 10-year Treasury edged up to 0.63% from 0.62% late Wednesday. It started the year close to 1.90%. Treasury yields tend to fall when investors are downgrading their expectations for the economy and inflation.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil continued its extreme swings, jumping $3.78, or 25.1%, to settle at $18.84 per barrel. It’s still way below the roughly $60 level where it started the year as worries pile up about the effects of a collapse in demand and as tanks fill close to their limits. Brent crude rose $2.73, or 12.1%, to $25.27.