U.S. Stock Futures Plunge as Job Data Trail Economist Estimates

U.S. stock futures extended losses after government data showed the nation added less than half the number of jobs that economists forecast last month, spurring concern about the strength of the labor market.

Payrolls grew by 88,000 workers last month, the smallest in nine months, after a revised 268,000 gain in February that was higher than first estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 87 economists surveyed by Bloomberg projected an advance of 190,000. The jobless rate fell to 7.6 percent from 7.7 percent.

Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures expiring in June retreated 1 percent to 1,538 at 8:31 a.m. in New York. The equity benchmark gained 0.4 percent yesterday, trimming its weekly decline to 0.6 percent, as Japan’s central bank increased its stimulus program. Contracts on the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 134 points, or 0.9 percent, to 14,397 today.

The bull market in U.S. equities entered its fifth year last month. The S&P 500 has surged 131 percent from a 12-year low in 2009 as companies reported better-than-estimated earnings and the Federal Reserve embarked on three rounds of bond purchases to stimulate the economy. The S&P 500 and the Dow closed at record highs on April 2.

Alcoa Inc. unofficially kicks off the first-quarter earnings season on April 8 when it reports its financial results after equity markets close, the first Dow average company to report.

Earnings at S&P 500 companies decreased 1.9 percent in the first three months of the year, according to analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That would mark the first year-over-year decrease in profit since 2009. Energy company earnings fell the most with a drop of 6.6 percent, the estimates show, as oil traded at at an average of $94.36 a barrel during the period compared with $103.03 in the first quarter of 2012. Profit at technology companies declined 4.1 percent for the second-biggest drop, the data show.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.