Investors were concerned that a strong employment report on Friday might prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates aggressively, which led to a decline on Wall Street on Thursday, with bank stocks driving all three major stock indices lower.
Stocks had climbed earlier in the day as statistics revealed that last week’s increase in jobless claims was the highest in five months. This raised some expectations for a looser labor market, which might reduce inflation.
But investors remained focused mostly on Friday’s closely watched non-farm payrolls report for February with expectations for a large wage increase on their minds. Hawkish comments this week from Fed Chair Jerome Powell had exacerbated concerns about upcoming interest rate hikes.
Traders were betting that chances of a 50 basis point rate hike at the Fed’s March meeting were around 80%, according to CME Group’s FedWatch tool, up sharply from a probability of 31% before Powell’s Tuesday and Wednesday appearances in Congress.
“There’s a lot of anticipation around tomorrow’s jobs report. We’re going to get a slew of data in the next week and a half,” said Mona Mahajan, Senior Investment Strategist, Edward Jones, New York, also citing inflation and retail sales reports all due out before the next Fed meeting which ends March 22.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 211,000 for the week ended March 4, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 195,000 claims for the latest week.