Stock market indicators fell to their low points for the year and bond prices rose on Friday after the government reported surprisingly tepid job growth in July, signaling that the economic recovery remains fragile and corporate profit growth could slow.
The Dow Jones industrial average of 30 blue-chip companies dropped 147.70 points, or 1.5 percent, to close at 9815.33. It was the lowest close for the Dow since Nov. 28.
The Nasdaq composite index continued its steep decline, finishing down 44.74 points, or nearly 2.5 percent, at 1776.89. The Nasdaq is at its lowest point since Aug. 26 and is down 11.3 percent this year. The Dow is down 6.1 percent.
The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, considered the broadest barometer of the overall market, finished at 1063.97 on Friday, down 16.73 points, or 1.6 percent. The S&P 500 is down 4.3 percent for the year.
The swoon on Wall Street began at the opening bell after the Labor Department reported that employers added just 32,000 workers to their payrolls in July, well short of expectations. Many economists say payrolls must increase by about 150,000 per month just to keep up with population growth.
Traders and money managers said fear is spreading that continued high oil prices and sluggish job growth could cut consumer spending and slow the economy enough to cut into what had been a rapid rise in corporate profits. Declining profits make stocks seem more expensive.
"You had a weak jobs number last month and a really weak jobs number this month, and consumers have just been toasted by higher oil prices," said Jonathan Golub, equity strategist at JPMorgan Fleming Asset Management in New York. "You have to ask, is the economy beginning to stall?"
Bonds rallied Friday as investors sought less volatile investments. The benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose $14.06 per $1,000 face value. Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of price, dropped to 4.22 percent, the lowest level since April 13. Gold, also considered a safe investment, also rose on Friday, with the futures contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange closing up 1.9 percent, at $399.80 a troy ounce.
Oil prices, after setting a new high on Thursday, declined somewhat as fears about a disruption in flow from Russia eased and expectations that a slowing U.S. economy could dampen demand rose. Light crude for September delivery finished at $43.95 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down 46 cents from Thursday's $44.41.
For the bond market, the weak jobs number raised questions about the pace at which the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates. Bond prices tend to fall in an environment of rising rates because investors believe new issues will come on the market at higher rates, making current bonds less attractive.
Any time the government releases figures suggesting that growth may be cooling, bonds tend to advance. "Bonds love weak economic numbers," said David Kotok, president of investment firm Cumberland Advisors Inc.
Despite the weak jobs number, some stock market analysts and traders took heart that the market did not suffer an even sharper sell-off. They said other data in the Labor Department report, including the length of the work week and hourly pay, were more positive. They also said a separate study of households indicated that 629,000 more workers found jobs in July.
"I don't think we should go overboard here," said Laurence G. Kantor, head of economics and market strategy at Barclays Capital. "We seem to go through periods of two or three months where jobs look strong followed by a couple months where jobs look weak. And the household survey seems to be behaving the opposite way."
In a note to clients, RBC Dain Rauscher Inc. equity strategist Phil Dow said that when compared to earnings, stocks in the S&P 500 are beginning to look more attractive. He said stocks in the index now trade at about 17 times expected earnings for the rest of this year, close to the historic average of 16 times earnings.
Dow and others said big, dividend-paying companies with large amounts of cash on their balance sheets are likely to fare best. Firms with little or no profit, such as many technology firms, tend to suffer in a weak economic environment. That has been reflected in the Nasdaq's dismal performance this year.
Money continues to flow out of technology-focused mutual funds, according to brokerage firm Piper Jaffray & Co. A total of $114 million flowed out of technology stock funds in the week ended Aug. 4, the firm said, while $374 million went into taxable bond funds.
"What's propping the market up right now are the more defensive sectors . . . some consumer staples and drug companies," said Richard Bernstein, chief U.S. strategist for Merrill Lynch & Co. "We had a pretty defensive strategy going into" the job numbers announcement, Bernstein said. "And this just kind of played into our theme."
Golub of J.P. Morgan Fleming said he expects the market to be volatile for the next few weeks or months but won't go much higher or lower than the benchmarks already established this year.
"I don't think the market is going to fall apart but will probably just continue to stay in a trading range," he said. "On the one hand you've had really great earnings but on the other hand you have a lot of fear in the market about the upcoming election, interest rates, terrorism, oil prices and Iraq. . . . This [jobs] number just gave one more shot of worry."
* The New York Stock Exchange composite index fell 69.27, to 6225.83; the American Stock Exchange index fell 3.19, to 1221.28; and the Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks fell 12.71, to 519.65.
* Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones by 8 to 5 on the NYSE, where trading volume rose to 1.51 billion shares, from 1.39 billion on Thursday. On the Nasdaq Stock Market, decliners outnumbered advancers by 11 to 3 and volume totaled 1.68 billion, up from 1.55 billion.
* The dollar fell against the Japanese yen and the euro. In late New York trading, a dollar bought 110.36 yen, down from 111.71 late Thursday, and a euro bought $1.2277, up from $1.2057.