Stocks falter as Fed fails to offer fresh cause for cheer

NEW YORK – Global equity markets slid and the dollar eased on Thursday after a report showing persistently high claims for U.S. unemployment benefits reinforced the Federal Reserve’s assessment of a still difficult economic outlook.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday made clear the U.S. labor market has a long way to go to meet the central bank’s maximum employment goal and that its tools to achieve that were limited – dashing hopes of further stimulus.

The safe-haven yen hit a seven-week high against the dollar and a 1-1/2-month peak versus the euro as euro zone government bond yields dipped after the Bank of England said it was looking at possibly cutting interest rates to below zero.

Wall Street’s main indexes tumbled as the technology sector and related stocks slid further, with high-flying Apple Inc AAPL.O and Inc AMZN.O among the biggest drags on both the Nasdaq and S&P 500.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell less than expected last week and applications for the prior period were revised up, suggesting the labor market recovery had shifted into low gear amid fading fiscal stimulus.

But U.S. jobless claims remained elevated at 860,000, while both housing starts and the Philadelphia Fed business index fell and trading marked a risk-off sentiment.

The Fed is doing all it can without appearing to be in panic mode, said Rick Meckler, a partner at Cherry Lane Investments, a family investment office in New Vernon, New Jersey.

Investors face few alternatives other than stocks so some are taking profits ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November from this year’s unexpected rally after the coronavirus pandemic pushed economies into recession, he said.

“The Fed has been the most predictable part of the U.S. government. They did exactly what they told you they were going to do, they’ve been doing exactly what they said they were going to do now for well over a year,” Meckler said.

“If there’s more stimulation to come it’s going to have to come from Congress and the president, and on that front we seem probably stymied until the election.”

MSCI’s global benchmark for equity markets .MIWD00000PUS fell 0.76% to 570.64, and its emerging markets index .MSCIEF slipped 0.8%.

In Europe, the broad FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 closed down 0.52% at 1,438.61.

The S&P 500 .SPX slid 28.48 points, or 0.84%, to 3,357.01 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC skidded 140.19 points, or 1.27%, to 10,910.28. The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 130.4 points, or 0.47%, to 27,901.98.

Banks reeled from the prospect of near-zero interest rates for a prolonged period, with the European banking index .SX7P falling 1.6% and the S&P 500 financials index .SPSY 1.0%.

Overnight in Asia, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS lost 1% after five straight days of gains while the Nikkei in Japan .N225 and KOPSI in South Korea .KS11 shed 0.6%. and 1.2%, respectively. [.T]

An earlier stronger dollar inflicted damage in emerging markets. Turkey’s battered lira hit its latest record low TRY=, Argentina announced new capital controls just weeks after its ninth debt restructuring and there was a third straight day of declining eastern European currencies. [CEE/]

The dollar index =USD fell 0.317%, with the euro EUR= up 0.27% to $1.1846.

The Japanese yen JPY= strengthened 0.25% versus the greenback at 104.69 per dollar.

Oil rose 2% as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies said it would crack down on countries that fail to comply with output cuts and that it planned an extraordinary meeting in October if crude prices weaken further.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 added $1.08 to settle at $43.30 a barrel. U.S. crude futures CLc1 settled up 81 cents at $40.97 a barrel.

Spot gold prices XAU= fell 0.60% to $1,947.48 an ounce while U.S. gold futures GCv1 settled down 1.1% to $1,949.90.