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By Will Horner and Shen Hong
Major U.S. indexes fell Friday, on pace for their worst week since December, after data showed hiring growth slowed significantly in February.
The data reignited investors concerns around the health of the U.S. economy, the latest hurdle for a bull market that is on the eve of its 10th anniversary.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 159 points, or 0.6%, to 25305 in early-morning trading, while the S&P 500 declined 0.7%. The Nasdaq Composite also fell, shedding 0.8%. The declines extended major indexes' weekly losses north of 2.7%, on pace for their biggest drop since late December.
The declines came after data from the Labor Department showed U.S. nonfarm payrolls rose a seasonally adjusted 20,000 in February, missing economists' expectations of 180,000 new jobs.
Still, the report wasn't all gloomy. The unemployment rate ticked down to 3.8% from 4% a month earlier, while wages rose 3.4% from a year earlier -- the strongest pace since April 2009. The mixed data likely helped protect stocks against steeper losses, analysts said, adding that there was some question whether the government shutdown or a recent major snowstorm contributed to the weaker-than-expected jobs print.
"You can say this is not consistent with what we've seen from earnings," said Tony Roth, chief investment officer at Wilmington Trust.
Major U.S. indexes have been hit this week by concerns of weakening economic growth in Europe and Asia, on top of worries that a trade deal between the U.S. and China isn't imminent. Downbeat data from China overnight added to the downbeat mood.
A report Friday showed Chinese exports slid 20.7% in February from a year earlier -- a much steeper decline than economists had expected. Imports tumbled 5.2%, also a bigger drop than expected.
The data pushed shares of Chinese companies lower, with major indexes suffering their worst day since October. The Shanghai Composite Index fell 4.4% and its smaller Shenzhen counterpart dropped 3.8%, their biggest single-day falls in five months.
Meanwhile, in Europe, plans by the European Central Bank to deploy additional stimulus Thursday suggested policy makers had become increasingly concerned about the slowdown across the region, analysts said.
Despite the concerned response from markets, some welcomed the actions taken by ECB President Mario Draghi as necessary to guard against a worsening of the global slowdown.
"It seems like Draghi, at least, wanted to be seen as decisive. Now is better to act, sooner, pre-emptive, rather than later," said Geoffrey Yu, head of the U.K. investment office of UBS Wealth Management.
While the ECB's moves showed they were concerned about the slowdown, their actions should be read as vigilance, rather than anxiety, he added. "They are erring on the side of caution."
Jim Reid, an analyst at Deutsche Bank, said in a note that markets interpreted the ECB's stimulus measures as "nowhere near substantial enough," considering the downward revisions of growth forecasts.
Michael Wursthorn contributed to this article.
Write to Shen Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 08, 2019 10:11 ET (15:11 GMT)
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