Stock futures drift sideways ahead of jobs data


Stock futures traded sideways Wednesday evening as investors awaited more data on the labor market’s recovery, which will serve as crucial information in determining the path forward for the monetary policies underpinning risk assets over the past year.

Contracts on the S&P 500 were little changed as the overnight session kicked off. Nasdaq futures also hovered near the flat line, after the index set an all-time high during Wednesday’s regular trading day.

The indexes’ latest march to record highs has been powered by technology stocks, with the Nasdaq extending a run of outperformance from August. This has in turn signaled investors’ concerns over the status of the economic recovery given the Delta variant’s spread, with growth and technology stocks seen as more of a defensive trade amid a coronavirus resurgence. 

For cyclical stocks like energy and travel shares to keep pace, “We’ve got to see a rollover in COVID case counts,” Jeffrey Kleintop, Charles Schwab chief global investment strategist, told Yahoo Finance. “We’ve seen that in some states that seem to be leading the trends, and some countries as well, but I think we’re really dependent on case counts coming down and renewed confidence in that reopening, and travel and the service sector continuing to show growth.”

New economic data on Wednesday appeared to vindicate market participants’ concerns over a slowing recovery. ADP’s closely watched monthly payrolls report showed that just 374,000 private payrolls returned in August, sharply missing estimates for 625,000. And Friday’s officials jobs report from the Labor Department is expected to show a deceleration in non-farm payrolls gains, with these likely rising by 725,000 for August after jumping by 943,000 in July.

“The private payrolls numbers have been all over the map during the pandemic,” Mike Loewengart, managing director of investor strategy at E-Trade Financial, wrote in an email on Wednesday. “But with so much pressure on improvement on the labor market front coming from the Fed, this could send a signal that jobs growth is stagnating. That’s likely a good thing for the markets, though, as it means easy money policy continues.”

Namely, many Federal Open Market Committee members have signaled they are inclined to look especially closely at labor market data to determine when to start tapering their massive crisis-era asset purchase program. The August jobs report will be the final monthly government employment data the Fed receives before its next policy-setting meeting in late September, showing whether the economy has managed to come close to fully recuperating the jobs lost during the pandemic. 

6:01 p.m. ET Wednesday: Stock futures open flat

Here were the main moves as the overnight session kicked off Wednesday evening: 

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): +1.25 points (+0.03%) at 4,522.5

  • Dow futures (YM=F): -2 points (-0.01%) to 35,288.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): +3.75 points (+0.02%) to 15,613.00

A sign for Wall Street hangs in front of the New York Stock Exchange, July 8, 2021. Stocks are edging lower on Wall Street in early trading Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021 a day after the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq hit their latest record highs. The S&P 500 slipped 0.2% and the Nasdaq gave back 0.3%. Traders are keeping their eye on a final trickle of company earnings and looking ahead to Friday, when the Labor Department will release its monthly jobs report. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck