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The S&P 500 ended lower on Thursday after weekly jobless claims fell to a near 18-month low, allaying fears of a slowing economic recovery, but also stoking worries the Fed could move sooner than expected to scale back its accommodative policies.

Canada’s TSX also closed with losses, with industrials and consumer staples among the biggest decliners. The S&P/TSX composite index closed down 36.52 points to 20,705.27 a day before employment numbers are released for August.

Eight of the 11 major sectors of the TSX lost ground. Staples lost 1.2 per cent as shares of Empire Co. Ltd. lost 3.4 per cent after it reported lower first-quarter profits.

Industrials fell 1.1 per cent as shares of Canada’s two largest railways moved lower. Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. decreased 3.9 per cent while Canadian National Railway Co. was down 2.1 per cent.

Offsetting the losses was a 2.4 per cent gain by Air Canada even though U.S. airlines tempered investor expectations about earnings over the next number of months because of COVID-19.

Materials was down even though metals prices rose.

The December gold contract was up US$6.50 at US$1,800.00 an ounce and the December copper contract was up 5.25 cents at US$4.29 a pound.

Technology was the leading sector, gaining nearly one per cent as shares of Lightspeed increased 6.2 per cent in a reversal from Wednesday’s movement.

Energy was also higher as natural gas prices moved above US$5 per mmBTU for the first time in more than seven years.

Shares of Tourmaline Oil Corp. increased 1.9 per cent on the natural gas gains while Suncor Energy Inc. rose 1.4 per cent.

The U.S. Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 35,000 to a seasonally adjusted 310,000 for the week ended Sept. 4, the lowest level since mid-March 2020. That suggested that job growth could be hindered by labor shortages rather than cooling demand for workers.

Microsoft, Apple and Amazon each declined, all three among the stocks weighing most on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.

The S&P 500 real estate and healthcare indexes were among the poorest performers of 11 sectors, while financials and materials made modest gains.

JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Citi Group and Morgan Stanley each rose, tracking a slight rise in benchmark bond yields following the claims data.

“The problem with the market these days is it’s rotating more than it’s moving. Today, because of the jobs claims report, everyone is buying cyclical stocks,” said Jay Hatfield, chief executive of Infrastructure Capital Management in New York. “We see it as a rangebound market, between 4,400 and 4,600 (on the S&P 500).”

Investors have become more worried in recent sessions after a recent monthly jobs report showed a slowdown in U.S. hiring, suggesting the economic recovery may be losing steam faster than expected. Also dragging on sentiment has been uncertainty about when the U.S. Federal Reserve’s will scale back massive measures enacted last year to shield the economy from the coronavirus pandemic.

Unofficially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 147.25 points, or 0.42%, to 34,883.82, the S&P 500 lost 20.44 points, or 0.45%, to 4,493.63 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 38.17 points, or 0.25%, to 15,248.46.

Lululemon Athletica soared after providing a strong annual forecast, as demand for its yoga pants remains strong despite the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Reports that Beijing slowed down approval for all new online video games sent shares of U.S.-listed gaming stocks Activision Blizzard Inc, Electronic Art Inc, and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc down more than 1%.

Digital Realty slid after the data center REIT announced a public offering of 6.25 million shares.

Oil prices fell to a two-week low as China rolled out a plan to release state oil reserves, the U.S. weekly crude draw was smaller than expected and U.S. Treasuries rallied as investors sought safer assets.

In volatile trade, Brent futures fell $1.15, or 1.6%, to settle at $71.45 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell $1.16, or 1.7%, to $68.14. That was the lowest settlement for both since Aug. 26.

“A tremendous auction in the 30-year bond with the lowest interest rate print since January put a significant scare into the (oil) market in what looks like a flight to safety,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.

After falling over $1 a barrel early in the session, both benchmarks turned positive following reports that a ship was stuck in the Suez Canal. The ship was refloated and caused no delays.

Oil held those gains following a U.S. report showing a much bigger-than-expected gasoline draw and on the continued slow return of U.S. production after Hurricane Ida.

But oil futures fell over $1 a barrel again soon after strong demand in the afternoon $24 billion U.S. 30-year bond auction pushed yields down to 1.91%. Investors sold riskier assets like oil and stocks.

Oil was pressured when China’s state reserves administration said it would release crude reserves in phases via public auction to help domestic refiners control costs.

“China tapping their crude oil reserves is huge news and should provide much relief for domestic refiners and chemical companies,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA.

U.S. crude stockpiles declined by 1.5 million barrels in the week to Sept. 3, according to government data, much less than the 4.6-million barrel draw analysts forecast. [API/S] [EIA/S]

The much bigger-than-expected 7.2 million barrel drop in gasoline inventories provided support for oil prices. Analysts forecast gasoline stocks would decline by just 3.4 million barrels.

The yield on 10-year Treasury notes was down 4.3 basis points at 1.297%, after hitting a daily low of 1.287%, its lowest since Sept. 3.

The yield on the 30-year Treasury bond was down 5.4 basis points at 1.898% after falling to 1.885%, its lowest since Aug. 31.

Read more: Stocks that saw action Thursday - and why

Reuters, The Canadian Press, Globe staff

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