Stocks began the third quarter with another loss after reports on jobs, housing and manufacturing raised investors' economic worries.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell almost 42 points Thursday for its sixth straight loss, although it ended well off its lows ahead of the government's June jobs report. The report is critical because a rebound in jobs is needed for the economy to recover. The numbers are due before the start of trading Friday.
Anthony Chan, chief economist at J.P. Morgan Private Wealth Management in New York, said expectations are now so low that the market could get a pop from the report. "So many people are so set up for such a negative number that even if the number shows any signs of life there may be some sort of a relief rally," Chan said.
The latest economic reports followed a bad second quarter for investors and added to the importance of Friday's snapshot of the labor market.
The government said initial claims for unemployment benefits rose by 13,000 last week to 472,000. Economists had forecast a drop in claims. The report comes a day after payroll company ADP said private employers didn't increase hiring as much as expected last month.
Other economic news added to investors' concerns. The National Association of Realtors said the number of buyers who signed contracts to purchase homes fell to a new low in May following a rush of purchases to meet an April 30 tax credit deadline. Meanwhile, the Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index fell in June but that industrial activity still appears to be growing.
There were some pockets of strength in the market Thursday. Retail stocks mostly rose after a private equity firm disclosed that it purchased a 9.5 percent stake in BJ's Wholesale Club Inc. with the intention of taking it private. BJ's shares rose 17.6 percent. Limited Brands Inc., parent of the Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works chains, rose 2.9 percent after Fitch Ratings raised its ratings on the company's credit.
The stock market has been sliding on concerns about the economy since hitting its 2010 high in late April. The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped nine of the past 10 days. Investors are worried that they were too quick to bet on a rebound after major indexes plunged to 12-year lows in March 2009.
The Dow fell 41.49, or 0.4 percent, to 9,732.53. It was the lowest close since October 2009. It was down as much as 152 points in late morning trading. The Dow hasn't dropped six straight days since mid-January 2009.
The S&P 500 index fell 3.34, or 0.3 percent, to 1,027.37. The Nasdaq composite index fell 7.88, or 0.4 percent, to 2,101.36.
The Dow dropped 10 percent for the April-June quarter, while the S&P 500 index fell 11.9 percent.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 2.95 percent from 2.94 percent late Wednesday. Its yield fell below 3 percent this week for the first time in more than a year on fears that the economy would slip back into recession.
There were signs Thursday that some traders think the slide has been overdone: Treasury bond yields rebounded after sliding early in the day. The euro rose sharply against the dollar in a sign of confidence in Europe's economy. Also, the market's fear gauge fell. A drop in stocks usually drives the Chicago Board Options Exchange's Volatility Index higher. Instead, the VIX dropped 4.9 percent.
John Canally, economist at LPL Financial in Boston, said traders were so scarred by the market's crash in 2008-09 that they have seeing lackluster economic numbers as signs that growth is going to disappear rather than just slow.
"You see this almost every time 12-15 months after the end of a recession. You hit sort of a soft spot," Canally said.
Canally said the likelihood of a so-called "double dip," in which the economy begins to shrink again, has risen in the past month to about 20 percent from 10 percent. He said investors are far more pessimistic. "I would say the market is now over 50" percent, he said.
The dollar fell Thursday along with commodities including oil and gold. Crude oil fell $2.68, or 3.5 percent, to $72.95 per barrel.
The June jobs report is expected to show that employers cut about 110,000 positions for the month. That figure reflects the loss of about 240,000 temporary census jobs.
Investors are more focused on hiring by businesses because that is a key factor needed to revive the economy. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters forecast that private employers added 112,000 jobs. That would be far above the 41,000 added in May. The overall unemployment rate is expected to rise to 9.8 percent from 9.7 percent in May.
Among individual stocks, BJ's rose $6.22, or 16.8 percent, to $43.23, while Limited rose 63 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $22.70.
Two stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 6.2 billion shares compared with 5.3 billion traded at the same point Wednesday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 5.30, or 0.9 percent, to 604.19.
Britain's FTSE 100 dropped 2.3 percent, Germany's DAX index fell 1.8 percent, and France's CAC-40 lost 3 percent. Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 2 percent.