Stock futures hugged the flat line Thursday evening as investors awaited a key report on the state of the U.S. economic and labor market recovery out Friday morning.
Contracts on the Dow opened slightly lower to pull back after the index hit yet another all-time high during the regular session. The Nasdaq also ended the session higher to end a four-day losing streak. The S&P 500 rose but drifted just below an all-time high. Shares of payments company Square (SQ) jumped more than 2% in late trading after reporting first-quarter results that blew past estimates, aided by stimulus-fueled consumer spending and bitcoin revenues. Beyond Meat (BYND), on the other hand, sank after-hours after posting quarterly sales that missed estimates and a wider than expected loss.
Investors are looking ahead to the Labor Department’s April jobs report Friday morning, with the print likely to show a staggering 1 million payrolls returned last month, or the most since August. The unemployment rate is expected to drop to a pandemic-era low of 5.8%, but still hold above the 3.5% from February 2020.
If the data comes in as expected, it would likely add to the “string” of months of strong job gains Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has suggested he would want to see before the central bank considers adjusting its ultra-accommodative monetary policy posturing.
Investors have been contemplating the improvements in economic data with both optimism about the post-pandemic rebound and trepidation over the implications for monetary policy, with persistently strong data likely to bolster the case for the Fed to ease up on policies that had supported the recovery as well as asset prices. Prospects of higher interest rates have especially weighed on growth and technology stocks, which would see valuations come under pressure once rates lift from their current near-zero levels.
Valuation also remains a concern for the broader market, many strategists said. Stocks are trading near record highs even as additional catalysts for growth start to dwindle, with the economic rebound from the pandemic already well-known. And even given that most companies blew past estimates with first-quarter earnings, profit still remains below levels from before the pandemic for many corporations.
“We’re 25-30% more expensive on stocks than we were going into 2020, and we don’t have earnings yet that are at that level. So the big challenge is how fast earnings can catch up and whether or not investors get spooked along the way,” ” Sean O’Hara, president at Pacer ETFs Distributors, told Yahoo Finance, citing inflation, rising rates and supply chain constraints as possible risks. “We’re sort of in this perilous, teeter-totter zone if you will, rooting for stocks to go higher and hoping that earnings catch up.”
“I think where we are in the market is we’ve sort of gotten a free ride on the broad indexes, and now it’s time to start thinking about what smaller subparts of the market are there greater opportunities,” he added.