Last week the number of Americans making claims for unemployment benefits for the first time unexpectedly increased while continuing unemployment claims rose to the highest since July 2004.
However new data showing the service sector contracted less than expected in March helped markets pare early losses and observers said that trade was likely to be subdued ahead of Friday’s crucial employment data.
By lunchtime in New York, the benchmark S&P 500 was down for a second day, falling 0.1 per cent to 1,366.70 while the Nasdaq Composite was 0.3 per cent lower at 2,354.62. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.1 per cent to 12,591.99.
On Wednesday stocks eased back from an exuberant start to the second quarter after Ben Bernanke’s cautious comments on the economy and a late spike in commodity prices hit equities.
Consumers appear to be feeling the squeeze already. According to an American Bankers Association survey they fell behind on a variety of loan repayments at the highest rate in 15 years during the fourth quarter.