Stock Futures Waver Ahead of December Jobs Report


U.S. stock futures wavered ahead of fresh labor-market data that will offer a signal about the outlook for the U.S. economy and the trajectory of interest rates. 

Futures tied to the S&P 500 swung between gains and losses Friday and recently traded flat. Contracts tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.1%, while futures for the technology-focused Nasdaq-100 fell 0.3%.

The Labor Department will release its December jobs report at 8:30 a.m. ET. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect employers to have added 200,000 jobs. That would be less than the 263,000 jobs added in November—but still higher than the 2019 pre-pandemic average.

Investors entered the 2023 trading year on edge about the path ahead for interest rates, and Friday’s jobs data will likely factor heavily into the Federal Reserve’s next policy decision at its Jan. 31-Feb. 1 meeting. The December report will include updated figures on wage gains, a factor that has been driving rapid inflation.

In recent weeks, money managers had grown hopeful that inflation will slow quickly in the months ahead, possibly prompting the Fed to begin cutting rates later this year. But this week has reminded investors the path forward could be more complicated. 

Minutes from the Fed’s last policy meeting, released Wednesday, showed that officials expect to keep raising interest rates in case price pressures prove more persistent. Meanwhile, data on job openings and jobless claims added to evidence that the U.S. labor market remains strong. 

“The market is already pricing cuts in 2023, which we think is misplaced,” said Hani Redha, global multi-asset portfolio manager at PineBridge Investments, of interest rates. He noted that while data indicates that parts of the U.S. economy are clearly slowing, “there’s no imminent sign of things falling off a cliff.” 

Mr. Redha said that in addition to the December jobs numbers, he will also be carefully watching corporate results during the fourth-quarter earnings season, which kicks off in earnest next week. “For us, the key is to be watching profitability and the reaction to that, and what companies do with their labor force,” he said.

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange earlier this week. Some of 2022’s major market trends are carrying through into 2023.



Photo:

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Major U.S. indexes are on pace to end their first week of 2023 with losses, extending 2022’s selloff into the new year. In trading Tuesday through Thursday, the S&P 500 has lost 0.8% this week. 

Some of 2022’s major market trends are carrying into the new year. Shares of growth and technology companies have continued to decline—

Tesla

and

Microsoft,

for example, have lost 10% and 7.3%, respectively, for the week through Thursday. News of a sharp drop in monthly deliveries in China helped keep

Tesla

shares under pressure Friday, with the stock declining more than 6% ahead of the opening bell. 

Conversely, cyclical stocks, including those of airlines, banks and homebuilders, have climbed this week. 

The dollar has strengthened, reviving a trend seen through most of 2022. On Friday, the WSJ Dollar Index added 0.4%.

Yields on short-term Treasury bonds have also climbed this week. The yield on the two-year note—which reflects near-term interest-rate expectations—rose on Friday to 4.448%, its highest level since November. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.731%, from 3.720% Thursday. 

Overseas, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 added 0.2%, and was on pace to finish the week with gains. Fresh data Friday showed that headline annual inflation in the eurozone eased by more than expected in December, though there was an increase in so-called core inflation, which strips out volatile energy and food prices.

In Asia, trading was mixed for the day—and the week. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.3% Friday but finished the week with a 6.1% gain. In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite gained 0.1% for the day and 2.2% for the week, reflecting optimism over China’s Covid-19 reopening and the loosening of restrictions on the property market.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 added 0.6% for the day but fell 0.5% for the week.

Write to Caitlin McCabe at caitlin.mccabe@wsj.com

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