NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Stocks headed for a lower start Thursday morning as investors found disappointment in an unexpected hefty jump in the number of jobs lost in August.
Just after 8:30 a.m. ET, futures pointed to a weaker start for the markets.
The Labor Department said the unemployment rate improved to 6.1 percent in August, from 6.2 percent last month. But 93,000 jobs were lost, following 44,000 jobs lost in July. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had expected the unemployment rate to hold at 6.2 percent and that 18,000 jobs were created in August.
For details of Thursday's gains, click above
The news comes on the heels of a report Thursday showing that jobless claims bumped above the key 400,000 mark, seen as a contraction in the labor market, in the week ended Aug. 30.
"The nonfarm payrolls is the main focus of attention today, and people will be looking out for any deterioration in the manufacturing sector," Steve Previs, a dealer in U.S. shares at Jefferies International, told Reuters.
Investors have been watching reports on unemployment closely in recent months as they hold out hope for signs of a recovery in the second half of 2003. Traders have said that a boost in the labor market would be a key component to economic recovery, as job security often translates into better consumer spending levels.
But the stock markets appear to have an economic recovery in their head, as evidenced by rallies that began before Labor Day and have continued throughout this week. The Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P are at their highest levels in 15 months, while the Nasdaq composite index is at a 17-month high.
With its 0.2 percent gain Thursday, the Dow is up more than 172 points for the week to date; Nasdaq's 0.9 percent rise leaves it ahead by more than 58-1/2 points (see chart for details).
Some corporate news also could influence trading Friday.
Before the opening bell, Banc of America cut its investment rating on Wal-Mart (WMT: Research, Estimates) to "neutral" from "buy," saying the stock is nearing the firm's price target and has played itself out for the most part. Shares of Wal-Mart slipped less than 1 percent in pre-market trading on Island.
Intel (INTC: Research, Estimates) gained 1.4 percent in before-hours trading on Instinet after the top maker of semiconductors raised the lower end of its third-quarter sales guidance because of improved demand for processors used in desktop and notebook computers. Morgan Stanley raised its 2003 and 2004 revenue and earnings-per-share expectations for the company before the open Thursday.
PeopleSoft (PSFT: Research, Estimates) could also help lift techs. DB Securities upgraded its rating on the business software maker, which is being pursued in a takeover bid by Oracle, to "buy" from "hold." Shares of PeopleSoft rose more than 3 percent in before-hours trading on Island.
The wireless sector also garnered attention after Prudential upgraded wireless services to "market outperform" from "market perform." The firm also raised its ratings on Sprint PCS (PCS: Research, Estimates), Nextel (NXTL: Research, Estimates) and Western Wireless (WWCA: Research, Estimates) to "buy" from "hold." Shares of Sprint lifted more than 5 percent and Nextel bounced more than 2 percent in pre-hours trading on Instinet.
Asian-Pacific stocks ended mixed, with Tokyo's Nikkei index managing a small gain. European markets retreated in afternoon trading. (Check the latest on world markets.)
Treasury prices inched higher in early trading, sending the 10-year note yield down to 4.49 percent from 4.50 percent late Thursday. The dollar slipped against the yen and euro.
Brent oil futures for November delivery slipped 21 cents to $27.07 a barrel in London, where gold also stepped lower in early trading.
-- from staff and wire reports