A day after rallying on hopes for a Greek bailout, the stock market tumbled Wednesday following another round of dismal economic data. The daylong sell-off accelerated into the close after Moody's downgraded Greek debt late in the trading day.
The Dow shed 2.2% to 12,291 while the S&P and Nasdaq each lost 2.3%, and oil fell the most in three weeks as the "risk on" trade came unwound in a hurry. Gold rose to a four-week high while Treasury prices continued to rally; the yield on the benchmark 10-year note fell below 3% for the first time since early December.
The widespread sell-off was widely attributed to weaker-than-expected reports on U.S. manufacturing, auto sales, and the ADP's report on private sector payrolls. Just 38,000 private sector jobs were created last month, the lowest level since September 2010, according to ADP.
While the ADP report has a checkered history of forecasting the Labor Department's survey, the combination of ADP's report and the national ISM Manufacturing index hitting its lowest level since 2009 prompted Wall Street economists to slash their forecasts for Friday's jobs report. Deutsche Bank's Joe LaVorgna, for example, has cut his forecast for Friday's payroll number two times this week, to 150,000 currently from 300,000 last week.
As my Breakout colleague Matt Nesto notes in the accompanying clip, Wednesday's weak data confirms the recent trend, which has been a pervasive slowdown across nearly every sector of the economy. Citigroup's U.S. Economic Surprise Index, which whether data is beating or missing estimates, turned negative last month and now sits at its lowest level since January 2009, Bloomberg reports. (See: What Recovery? The Economy's Weak And Getting Weaker, Mish Says)
Given the declining trend has been in place for several weeks (at least), Wednesday has the look of a "capitulation day" for the remaining econo-bulls. As a result, the market may be set up for an upside surprise on Friday if the May jobs number is anything but horrific. While the official consensus estimate is for 170,000 jobs, the "whisper number" is now 100,000 according to Reuters.
While Jeff Macke describes today's action as just noise within the trading range of S&P 1300 to 1340, the heavy selling seemingly confirms the trend of one-step forward, two-steps back that has been in force since early May. The question is whether the stock market is just catching on to economic reality or sniffing out something far worse in the offing, like QE3 or a political breakdown over the debt ceiling.