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Stocks See Initial Weakness Amid Global Economic Concerns - U.S. Commentary

3/22/2012 9:50 AM ET

Stocks showed a notable move to the downside at the start of trading on Thursday, as traders expressed renewed concerns about the outlook for the global economy. The major averages all slid firmly into negative territory after ending the previous session mixed.

The major averages have edged up off their lows for the young session in the past few minutes but remain in the red. The Dow is down 61.68 points or 0.5 percent at 13,062.94, the Nasdaq is down 15.97 points or 0.5 percent at 3,059.35 and the S&P 500 is down 8.84 points or 0.6 percent at 1,394.05.

The initial weakness on Wall Street came on the heels of the release of some disappointing data from overseas, including a report showing a continued contraction in Chinese manufacturing activity.

A report from HSBC showed that its index of activity in the Chinese manufacturing sector fell to 48.1 in March from 49.6 in February, with a reading below 50 indicating a contraction. With the drop, the index suggested that Chinese factory activity shrank for the fifth consecutive month.

Adding to the negative sentiment, a report from Markit Economics indicated that Eurozone private sector activity fell more sharply than expected in March.

Markit Economics said that its composite output index for the Eurozone fell to a three-month low of 48.7 in March from 49.3 in February.

The disappointing overseas data has overshadowed a report from the Labor Department showing that U.S. initial jobless claims fell to a four-year low in the week ended March 17th,

The report showed that initial jobless claims fell to 348,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 353,000. The drop surprised economists, who had expected jobless claims to edge up to 352,000 from the 351,000 originally reported for the previous week.

With the unexpected decrease, jobless claims fell to their lowest level since coming in at 347,000 in the week ended March 8, 2008.

Steel stocks are seeing considerable weakness amid concerns about the outlook for global demand, with the NYSE Arca Steel Index down by 2.3 percent. Arcelor Mittal (MT) and Gibraltar Industries (ROCK) are turning in two of the steel sector's worst performances.

Gold, transportation, housing, and energy stocks are also seeing notable weakness in early trading, moving to the downside along with most of the major sectors.

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region turned in a lackluster performance on Thursday, ending the day mixed. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index rose by 0.4 percent, while China's Shanghai Composite Index edged down by 0.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets have all shown notable moves to the downside on the day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index is down by 0.9 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index have fallen by 1.6 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.

In the bond market, treasuries have moved higher amid the global economic worries. As a result, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is down by 3.4 basis points at 2.26 percent.

by RTT Staff Writer

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