U.S. stock index futures accelerated their losses Friday following a much weaker-than-expected March unemployment report combined with ongoing worries over North Korea.
U.S. employers hired at the slowest pace in nine months in March, adding just 88,000, while the unemployment rate notched lower to 7.6 percent, largely due to people dropping out of the work force, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate is the lowest since December 2008, while the labor force participation rate is at the lowest since 1979. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a gain of 200,000.
Earlier this week, private sector employment and jobless claims data indicated weakness in the labor market. Reports on the manufacturing and services sectors also disappointed.
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"This jobs number is going to have to revise GDP lower—at the end of the day, if people aren't making money, they're not spending. So this number has huge ramifications," said Alan Valdes, director of floor operations at DME Securities. "More striking is the fact that this may be the new norm."
Adding to fears, geopolitical tensions remained in focus after North Korea placed two of its intermediate range missiles on mobile launchers and hid them on the east coast of the country, according to South Korean media. In addition, North Korea asked several foreign embassies including Russia to consider evacuating staff from Pyongyang because of increasing tension.
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Also on the economic front, the U.S. trade gap narrowed unexpectedly to $43 billion in February, from an unrevised $44.5 billion in January, as crude oil imports fell to their lowest level since March 1996 and overall exports increased slightly, according to the Commerce Department. Economists surveyed by Reuters expected the gap to widen to $44.6 billion.
Major averages have struggled for direction since the S&P 500 pierced through its 2007 closing high earlier this week. If the index closes lower Friday, it will have zigzagged between gains and losses for the 13th-consecutive session for the first time ever.
First-quarter earnings season is scheduled to kick off next week with results from aluminum producer Alcoa on Monday after the closing bell. S&P 500 earnings are expected to have increased just 1.6 percent from a year ago, according to the latest data from Thomson Reuters, down from 4.3 percent forecast in January.
F5 Networks plunged after the network appliances company slashed its second-quarter outlook.
Also on the economic front, the Federal Reserve will release its consumer credit report for February at 3 pm ET. Economists polled by Reuters forecast a $15 billion gain, after a $16.2 billion increase in January.
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