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Market opens higher despite record US jobless claims

By SCOTT REEVES in New York | | Updated: 2020-03-27 00:17
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US stocks opened higher Thursday and climbed in early trading despite the highest number of jobless claims in nearly 40 years – 3.28 million -- filed in the wake of economic turmoil caused by the spread of the coronavirus.

Stock futures fell in anticipation of the jobless claims but rebounded before the open. In early trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 2.67 percent. The S&P 500 rose 2.62 percent. The Nasdaq Composite added 2.25 percent.

The rally, now in its third day, followed the Senate's approval of a $2 trillion stimulus package. The House is expected to vote on the bill Friday and send it to President Donald Trump who will sign it into law.

The consensus estimate by Wall Street analysts was for 1.5 million new jobless claims. But initial claims surged 3 million to 3.28 million for the week ended March 21, the US Labor Department reported. That number exceeded the previous high of 695,000 in October 1982.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday the number of new jobless claims was a temporary hit to the economy: "At a certain point, we will get the spread of the virus under control," Powell told NBC News. "At that time, confidence will return, businesses will open again, people will come back to work.''

Powell said steps taken by the nation's central bank will assure a steady flow of capital to businesses to keep them alive now and help with the restart when the crisis breaks.

"When it comes to this lending, we're not going to run out of ammunition – that doesn't happen," he said. "We still have policy room in other dimensions to support the economy."

The spike in new claims followed nationwide layoffs and orders by state and local governments to close nonessential businesses as part of the effort to curb spread of the coronavirus.

Until the coronavirus hit, employers hired new workers for a record 113 months in a row and payrolls grew by 22 million. The unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent. Wages increased at all levels, but grew fastest at the low end of the pay scale as employers increased pay to attract and retain workers.

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