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Wall St set to open lower as jobless claims data fans slowdown fears


Traders work on the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., March 31, 2023. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Wall Street’s main indexes were set to open lower on Thursday as a stronger-than-expected weekly jobless claims report pointed to growing signs that rapid interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve was slowing down economic growth.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits stood at 228,000 last week, a fresh Labor Department report showed, much higher than economists’ projection of 200,000 in the latest week.

The latest report adds to evidence of a cooling labor market after weak data on private payrolls and job openings earlier this week fueled hopes of a pause in rate hikes.

“The last strongholds of the economy are beginning to weaken and that signals recession,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York.

“The labor market is beginning to weaken and that’s basically playing into the hands of the Fed.”

Fed fund futures are indicating a 62.5% chance of the U.S. central bank pausing its rate hikes in May and a 51.3% chance of a rate cut at its July meeting, according to CME Group’s Fedwatch tool.

All eyes will now be on the report on non-farm payrolls, which are expected to have increased by 239,000 in March, down from the 311,000 jobs added in the prior month.

At 8:44 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were down 17 points, or 0.05%, S&P 500 e-minis were down 4.5 points, or 0.11%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 50.25 points, or 0.38%.

Major technology and growth stocks such as Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and Nvidia Corp (NVDA.O) fell between 0.9% and 1.5% in premarket trade.

Bucking the trend, Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) rose 0.8% on report that Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said the company plans to add conversational artificial intelligence features to its search engine.

The S&P 500 (.SPX) and the tech-heavy Nasdaq (.IXIC) are on track to notch weekly declines for the first time in four weeks.

The U.S. stock market will be shut on Friday for the Good Friday holiday.

Remarks by St. Louis President James Bullard on the economy and monetary policy, later in the day, will also be parsed for clues on the Fed’s policy.

A slew of major U.S. banks will kick off the first-quarter earnings season for big-ticket companies next week, providing investors more insight into the health of corporate America.

Among major stock moves, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc (AMC.N) jumped 13.6% after a U.S. court denied the theater operator’s request to lift a status quo order necessary for its stock conversion plan. The preferred APE stock dropped 11.1%.

Levi Strauss & Co (LEVI.N) fell 3.9% after the apparel maker posted a fall in quarterly profit.

Retailer Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O) shed 3% on weak comparable sales in March.

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