Wall St subdued as signs of tight labor market fuel rate hike fears

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s main indexes were subdued on Wednesday as data showed U.S. job openings fell less than expected, fuelling investor anxiety about interest rate hikes ahead of the Federal Reserve’s December meeting minutes.

FILE PHOTO: A street sign for Wall Street is seen outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, New York, U.S., July 19, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

A survey from the Labor Department showed job openings fell 54,000 to 10.458 million on the last day of November, compared with expectations of 10 million job openings.

The data indicated a still tight labor market that could give the Fed cover to keep rates higher for longer.

Meanwhile, Apple Inc rose 0.6%, while electric-vehicle maker Tesla Inc jumped 2.3%, with both the shares recovering from a searing drop in the previous session.

The gains eased some of the pressure on the benchmark S&P 500 index.

Microsoft Corp dropped 5.2% following a downgrade by brokerage UBS on worries over slowing growth for its cloud services and Office suite.

Consumer discretionary stocks rose 0.3%, while the tech sector fell 0.4%.

A separate report showed U.S. manufacturing contracted further in December. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its manufacturing PMI dropped to 48.4 last month from 49.0 in November, contracting for a second straight month.

Minutes from the Fed’s previous meeting, when it raised interest rates by half a percentage point and cautioned rates may need to remain higher for longer, are due to be released at 2 p.m. ET (1900 GMT).

The Fed minutes could show the central bank’s internal deliberations entering a new phase where risks to economic growth and employment are given more standing, while curbing high inflation remains the top priority.

U.S. equities were pummeled in 2022 on worries of a recession due to aggressive monetary policy tightening, with the three main stock indexes logging their steepest annual losses since 2008.

“It’s a new year, but we’re stuck with the same macro conditions, which are still pretty discouraging,” said Dave Grecsek, managing director in investment strategy and research at Aspiriant.

“Two things that are really going to drive near-term market returns – whether Fed is going to stick to its word and be as firm with inflation and policy rates and whether the U.S. and the European economies enter recession.”

Market participants see a 68% chance of a 25-basis point rate hike from the Fed in February, and see rates peaking at 4.99% by June.

At 10:28 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 37.17 points, or 0.11%, at 33,099.20, the S&P 500 was up 0.44 points, or 0.01%, at 3,824.58, and the Nasdaq Composite was down 26.38 points, or 0.25%, at 10,360.61.

Salesforce Inc gained 2.8% on the enterprise software firm’s workforce reduction plans.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 3.53-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 2.18-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 2 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 55 new highs and 31 new lows.

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