Dow Falls as Jobless Claims Surge and Stimulus Talks Stall

Stocks fluctuated Thursday as investors weighed bogged down stimulus talks and a jobless claims report that showed a surge in the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 117 points, or 0.39%, to 29,951, the S&P 500 was down 0.27% and the Nasdaq rose 0.34%.

Airbnb, the home rental platform, began trading Thursday at $146, well above its initial public offering price of $68 a share. At last check, the stock was trading at $145.18.

Stocks finished lower Wednesday as Wall Street weighed dimming prospects for a coronavirus relief package and as tech giants took a beating after Facebook  (FB) – Get Report was sued by the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of U.S. states for what they charged was anticompetitive behavior.

Shares of Facebook, the social media giant, fell 0.55% on Thursday to $276.39.

Jobless claims jumped last week, reversing the previous week’s declines and hitting their highest level since mid-September, as companies scaled back hiring amid record numbers of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that 853,000 Americans filed for first-time jobless benefits in the week ended Dec. 5, up from a revised 716,000 claims the week earlier. Economists polled by FactSet had been expecting claims of 712,000.

“It’s evident the labor market is still in crisis,” said Indeed Hiring Lab economist AnnElizabeth Konkel.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remain divided over competing stimulus packages. McConnell backs a $916 billion proposal floated by the White House, while Pelosi prefers a $908 billion plan being worked on by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Sticking points remain over liability protections, and state and local government aid. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that progress was being made on a relief deal

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters “it is long past time when adults should have made an agreement” on a Covid-19 relief package.

That’s especially true now as the U.S. has reached another grim milestone in its battle against Covid-19. Just one week after the country broke a daily record for coronavirus deaths, it did so again on Wednesday, with officials across the country reporting at least 3,011 new fatalities, according to The New York Times.

Approval of a coronavirus vaccine in the U.S., therefore, can’t come soon enough. Pfizer  (PFE) – Get Report was rising Thursday as a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee discussed the authorization of the Covid-19 vaccine the drugmaker has developed with Germany’s BioNTech  (BNTX) – Get Report.

If the advisory committee votes to authorize the shot, it’s expected the FDA could make a decision on rolling out the vaccine within four days. Distribution in the U.S. could then begin within 24 hours, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. 

“The widespread rollout of a vaccine will radically change the market psychology,” said Anthony Denier, CEO of trading platform Webull.

“A swift recovery could lift consumer confidence and sectors of the stock market that have been hit hardest would begin to bounce back,” Denier added.