This story was updated at 4:07 p.m. EST.
U.S. stocks closed a seesaw session slightly lower Tuesday. The Dow swung from 150 points down before gaining nearly 100 points into positive territory by midafternoon, then losing that gain by the closing bell. Oil prices fell by single digits as the U.S. benchmark dipped below $28 a barrel before rebounding to just above its low hit on Jan. 19.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI) edged down 12.67 points, or 0.08 percent, to 16,014.38. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index (INDEXSP:.INX) fell 1.23 points, or 0.07 percent to 1,852.21. The Nasdaq composite (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) fell 14.99 points, or 0.35 percent, to 4,268.76.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Tuesday in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) that there were 5.6 million available positions in December, higher than the consensus forecast of 5.41 million. The rate at which American workers voluntarily left their jobs (known as the quits rate) was a strong 2.1 percent, the highest since April 2008. The total number people leaving their jobs was 3.1 million, the highest in a decade.
Joe LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, pointed out in a note to clients Monday that the quits rate is one of the more closely watched labor indicators used by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who will be providing two days of congressional testimony starting Wednesday.
“In Yellen’s view, the quits rate is an indication of rising worker confidence about the labor market,” LaVorgna said. “This may be one reason why the quits rate has historically been a leading indicator of wage inflation.”
Yellen may address the JOLTS report during her Capitol Hill testimony, which will offer the latest indication of whether the Fed believes the U.S. economy can weather future interest rate hikes.
Treasury Yield Drops
On Tuesday, the yield on the benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury yield rebounded to 1.73 percent after touching its lowest level since February of last year. The bond yield typically rises when investors are more confident about the markets and falls when concerns flare. Gold, another so-called safe-harbor investment, shed 0.63 percent to $1,190.30 per troy ounce, around its highest level since last summer. Gold prices tend to fall as confidence in the markets rise.
Oil prices were trending downward Tuesday after the International Energy Agency released its widely read monthly global oil market report, which said the worst isn’t over for crude prices. Oil stocks, it forecasts, will grow by 2 million barrels per day in the first three months of the year, while demand will fall to 1.2 million barrels a day this year.
By Tuesday afternoon, U.S. West Texas Intermediate had fallen 4.55 percent to $28.34 per barrel for March delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the other major global benchmark, fell 6.6 percent to $30.71 for April delivery on the London ICE Futures Exchange.
Chinese markets are closed this week for the Lunar New Year holiday. But the absence of China market volatility did little to calm markets; Japan’s Nikkei 225 plunged 5.4 percent Tuesday.
In Europe, the broad Stoxx Europe 600 index closed down 1.5 percent Tuesday. The Paris-based CAC 40 fell 1.7 percent, while London’s FTSE dropped 1 percent after touching its lowest intraday level since 2012. Frankfurt’s DAX lost 1.1 percent .