Stocks fall, head for worst week of 2019, as weak jobs report stokes economic growth fears

Stocks fell on Friday after the U.S. government released employment data that badly missed expectations, adding to growing concerns that the global economy may be slowing down.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average pulled back 126 points as Exxon Mobil and Pfizer lagged. The S&P 500 fell 0.65 percent as the energy and consumer discretionary sectors dipped. The Nasdaq Composite slid 0.6 percent.

Equities came well off their lows in late-morning trading. At its session low, the Dow was down more than 200 points.

The U.S. economy added just 20,000 jobs in last month, marking the weakest month of jobs creation since September 2017. Economists polled by Dow Jones expected a gain of 180,000.

“February’s anemic 20,000 new jobs will inevitably exacerbate widespread fears of slowing economic growth, making it harder to be optimistic about corporate earnings,” said Alec Young, managing director of global market research at FTSE Russell. “All in all, there’s little in this report to excite investors.”

Treasury yields fell along with futures. The benchmark 10-year rate dipped to 2.619 percent while the 2-year yield traded at 2.45 percent.

The data come amid growing concerns about the global economy possibly slowing down. Data out of China showed its exports slumped 20.7 percent from a year earlier, far below analyst expectations and wiping out a surprise jump in January.

Analysts cautioned that data from China at the beginning of the year may be distorted by week-long Chinese New Year public holidays, which started in early February this year. In 2018, Chinese New Year holidays started in mid-February.

The weak data all come less than 24 hours after the European Central Bank slashed its growth forecasts for the euro zone and announced a new round of policy stimulus.

“Most investors would agree we are late in the cycle,” said George Schultze, founder of Schultze Asset Management. “Having said that, GDP growth remains pretty solid. We’ve had about 10 years of solid growth. … There are also a lot of things pushing it along, including accommodative monetary policy.”

Equities were on track to post their biggest declines of the year. The major indexes are all down more than 2 percent this week. The Nasdaq was on pace to snap a 10-week winning streak, while the Dow was set to notch its second weekly decline of the year.

The weekly decline comes amid growing fears that most of the positive news on the U.S.-China trade front may be baked in. At this point, most investors expect the two countries to strike a trade deal later this month. There are also worries that a deal may not be sure thing.

CNBC learned through sources that China and the U.S. have talked about holding further discussions in Beijing after the National People’s Congress concludes on March 15. This was first reported by The New York Times.

“A pullback in risk assets was needed, but underlying technical and fundamental conditions are positive,” Peter Perkins, partner at MRB Partners, wrote in a note to clients. “The global growth outlook remains mixed, but there are signs that economic growth momentum in China and the euro area is bottoming, while the U.S. economy continues to chug along at a moderately above-potential pace.”

CNBC