Blue-chip stocks are broadly lower today after a disappointing government report showed that the labor market recovery may be in jeopardy. With roughly an hour left in the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is down by 81 points, or 0.56%.
Data released by the Department of Labor this morning showed that the U.S. economy added a mere 88,000 jobs last month. Economists surveyed by Reuters and Bloomberg had expected figures of 200,000 and 190,000, respectively.
Despite this, the official unemployment rate nevertheless ticked down to 7.6% -- though the "improvement" was a function of a shrinking labor force, as opposed to an absolute gain in employment.
Digging into the number further reveals that public-sector employment contracted by 7,000 workers last month. By comparison, private-sector employment expanded by 95,000 jobs. In addition, the retail sector declined by a net 24,000 jobs after adding an average of 32,000 positions for the past six months.
Analysts are attributing the lackluster results to a number of factors. In the first case, March was unseasonably cold. In Fargo, N.D., for example, the average temperature was 17.3 degrees -- that's 10.5 degrees below average and 24.3 degrees colder than the same month last year. And in the second case, many believe that the results of the sequester -- $85 billion in federal budget cuts triggered early last month -- are already being seen in the data. As an analyst quoted in The Wall Street Journal put it: "Job creation clearly sputtered in March. I chalk some of it up to trepidation over the sequester."
On the heels of today's news, 23 out of the Dow's 30 stocks are in the red. Leading the way down are shares of American Express (NYSE:AXP). For a company that relies on consumer spending to fuel its bottom line, the news out of the labor market was particularly unwelcome. In addition, as my colleague Jessica Alling noted, "Another blow may have come in the form of a downgrade to 'hold' by Jefferies Group analysts yesterday."
Also heading lower today are shares of beleaguered personal-computer maker Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ). After Thursday's closing bell, the company announced that its chairman is stepping down from his role, though he'll remain on the board -- click here to read the official press release. Meanwhile, two other directors have decided to depart the board entirely. Fellow Fool Anders Bylund called it a "much-needed step toward a healthier business," given the state that the company has found itself in under their stewardship.
Heading higher, alternatively, are shares of Boeing (NYSE:BA). The aerospace company has struggled over the past few months to identify and fix a design defect in its flagship 787 Dreamliner, which was grounded by global aviation authorities earlier this year after batteries on at least two aircraft caught fire. Sending Boeing's shares higher today was news that it began a final test flight of the 787 to demonstrate that the problem has been resolved.