U.S. stocks closed sharply lower Friday, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average extended losses for the seventh straight session, marking its longest losing streak in four years. The financial markets reacted with mixed emotions to the government’s solid employment report for July, which signaled the Federal Reserve will likely remain on track to raise interest rates as early as September.
Rates have hovered at historical lows for more than six years.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI) dropped 46.37 points, or 0.27 percent, to close at 17,373.38. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (INDEXSP:.INX) fell 5.99 points, or 0.29 percent, to end at 2,077.57. And the Nasdaq composite (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) lost 12.90 points, or 0.26 percent, to finish at 5,043.54.
For the week, the Dow lost 315 points, or 1.8 percent, hovering at its lowest point in six months. The S&P 500 lost 26 points, or 1.2 percent and the Nasdaq composite lost 85 points, or 1.7 percent.
Nine of the 10 S&P 500 sectors closed lower, led by a nearly 2 percent decline in energy. The utilities sector was the only gainer, up 1.3 percent.
Solid job gains in July make it likely that the Fed will lift interest rates in September, despite recent mixed economic data.
“There’s nothing in this report that should dissuade the Fed from raising rates in September,” said Mark Hamrick, Washington bureau chief at Bankrate.com. But Hamrick cautioned the central bank still has to get through five more weeks without a significant economic crisis, or political event. The Fed will meet next on Sept. 16 and 17.
There’s also one more jobs report for August released on Sept. 4 before the meeting.
Data released last week revealed U.S. GDP growth was sluggish over the first half of this year, while the latest readings from the employment cost index and average hourly earnings suggest there is still no meaningful pick-up in wage growth.
However, data released Wednesday showed the pace of growth in the U.S. service sector soared in July, recording its best reading in a decade. Meanwhile, the temporary resolution of the Greek crisis and a mild recovery in Chinese stocks also removes obstacles preventing a rate hike this year.
A growing number of economists previously said the global events this year could cause the U.S. central bank to hold off on interest rate hikes planned for later in 2015. Fed officials debated in June whether a hike would be “premature” in the face of uncertainty in Greece and China, acccording to minutes from the Fed's June meeting released last month.
Even so, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said last week it would take a "significant deterioration in the data" to convince him not to hike rates in September, increasing the odds further for a lift-off at the Federal Reserve’s meeting next month.
Dow components Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT) and DuPont Co. (NYSE:DD) led the index lower Friday, dropping 2 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively.
Shares of Dow component American Express Company (NYSE:AXP) soared 6 percent to $79.74 following a report activist hedge fund ValueAct Capital Management took a $1 billion stake in the firm, Bloomberg reported.
Following the report, S&P Capital IQ maintained its Hold rating on American Express, with a 12-month price target of $80. The firm sees the unconfirmed report as a positive for the credit card issuer, following “several setbacks this year,” Erik Oja, equity analyst at S&P Capital IQ, said in a note.
Nasdaq also extended losses, driven by declines in biotech stocks, which pushed the index's healthcare sector 3 percent lower for the week. The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index fell 4 percent a day earlier, snapping a five-day winning streak after drugmaker Allergan Plc's Actavis unit received a subpoena from the U.S. Justice Department, seeking information on the marketing and prices of its generic drugs.
For the week, the Nasdaq biotechnology index lost nearly 4 percent.