NEW YORK – Stocks are wavering between small gains and losses early Thursday after a report showed a record number of Americans lost their jobs last week due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The market had been headed for a higher opening, but gains for U.S. stock futures, European indexes and other markets mostly disappeared after the U.S. government reported that more than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week. That’s double the prior week’s number, which itself was nearly five times the prior record set in 1982.
The S&P 500 was up 0.2% at 10:10 a.m. Eastern Time. It had been up as much as 0.7% and down as much as 0.6% earlier. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq were little changed.
Helping to break the gloom was a surge for energy stocks, which are riding a wave of rebounding crude prices.
Benchmark U.S. oil had been up as much as 11% on hopes that Saudi Arabia and Russia could step back from their price war and cut some production as the world remains awash in crude. President Donald Trump said late Wednesday that he thought the two sides could reach a deal soon. Oil was up 8% shortly after U.S. stock trading began.
That helped energy stocks in the S&P 500 jump 4%, by far the biggest gain among the 11 sectors that make up the index.
European markets lost their earlier gains following the U.S. jobless data. Germany’s DAX was down 1.1% after earlier being up 0.7%. French stocks lost 0.5% after also being slightly higher.
There are more than 911,000 confirmed cases worldwide, led by the United States with more than 206,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Businesses have shut down around the world, and people are staying home to slow the spread of the virus. That has economists forecasting a sudden and steep recession, but no one can say for certain how long it will last without knowing when the infections will ultimately slow.
The U.S. Congress last week agreed on a $2.2 trillion economic aid package and the Federal Reserve promised to buy as many Treasurys as needed to keep credit markets running smoothly.
Legislators are collecting ideas for a possible new round of aid. President Donald Trump tweeted his support for a $2 trillion infrastructure package. But top Republicans in Congress say they first want to see how well their newly approved programs do.