U.S. markets opened sharply lower Thursday morning as traders rushed out of equities and poured into safety plays like bonds and gold. The Dow Jones industrials and the S&P 500 opened down about 2.5%, while the Nasdaq was down more than 3% at the opening bell.
In the first half-hour of trading, the losses had moderated: the Dow was down about 2.2%, the S&P 500 about 1.7% and the Nasdaq about 1.4%.
The weekly report on new claims for unemployment benefits indicated that new claims fell by 17,000 week over week to 232,000, below the consensus of 240,000. Continuing claims dropped by 112,000 to 1.476 million.
The second reading of fourth-quarter gross domestic product added 0.1% onto the advance estimate of 6.9% growth to come in at a growth level of 7.0%. Inventory builds accounted for 4.9% of the new growth estimate and new sales of domestic products, excluding changes to private inventories, rose 2.0%.
Personal consumption expenditures rose by 3.1%, somewhat lower than the prior estimate of 3.3% growth. Spending on goods rose by 1.5%, significantly higher than the advance estimate 0.5%. Spending on services came in at 3.9% compared to the advance estimate of 4.7%.
Among market sectors, all 11 traded lower, led by financials (3.3%), materials (2.3%) and consumer cyclicals (2.2%). Utilities (0.7%), real estate (1.1%) and energy (1.1%) showed the smallest losses.
Leading gainers in early trading included vaccine developer Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ: MRNA), which was up 8.8% to $147.80, in a 52-week range of $117.35 to $497.49. When it reported results that beat on the top and bottom lines in the morning, the company said that it believes COVID-19 will evolve into an endemic phase this year, driving sales of Moderna’s vaccine higher in the second half of the year.
Concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment Inc. (NYSE: LYV) was up 7.4%, at $121.80 in a 52-week range of $74.01 to $127.75. The company reported earnings late Wednesday, including a jump of more than 1,000% in revenue compared to the year-ago quarter.
Crude prices also slipped some since earlier in the morning. West Texas Intermediate traded up about 6.4% at $98.02 a barrel, down from a peak of just over $100 in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Brent crude dipped below $100 to trade at $99.97, after reaching $102 per barrel earlier.
The big gainer among energy stocks remains Cheniere Energy Inc. (NYSEAMERICAN: LNG). The stock traded up 8.8%, at $129.41 after posting a new 52-week high of $139.40 earlier. Investors are looking at Cheniere as a supplier of natural gas (LNG) to Europe if Russian gas supplies are cut off.
Several oil producers also gave back gains made Wednesday and earlier Thursday. Reports that President Biden may release barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve dampened enthusiasm for oil stocks. Diamondback Energy Inc. (NASDAQ: FANG) traded down about 0.7%, at $128.66. Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) traded down 0.7%, at $76.24, and Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 0.7%, at $134.75. BP PLC (NYSE: BP) traded down about 5.8% to $29.33
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