Stocks fell on Thursday after new data showed that a record 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, up from the previous week’s record of 3.3 million.
The figure, which came in way ahead of analyst expectations, underlines the scale of the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the US economy.
Consensus estimates had suggested that 3.6 million people had filed an initial jobless claim with US state unemployment agencies in the week ending 28 March.
Stocks nonetheless gained in the US on Thursday, suggesting that the increasingly dire economic data has already been priced in.
“The deterioration of the [US] labor market in the past two weeks almost defies belief. Since 14 March, approximately 3.8% of the working age population has filed for unemployment,” said Nick Bunker, an economic research director at jobs website Indeed.
“For context, during the Great Recession, the share of the population dropped 4.6 percentage points from December 2007 to December 2009. That took two years. The labor market is in a historic free fall,” he said.
Earlier, European equities had been boosted by a rebound in oil, after China said it would start buying oil for its state reserves and Saudi Arabia indicated it would support co-operation to stabilise prices.
The US jobless figures came as the global number of coronavirus infections approached the one million mark.
“As we enter the fourth month since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m deeply concerned about the rapid escalation and global spread of infection,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization.
The losses in Europe followed a mixed trading session in Asia.
The KOSPI Composite Index (^KOSPI) in South Korea closed over 2.3% in the green.
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