US stocks sink on rate worries; Nasdaq plunges 3.3%

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Feb 5, 2016.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Feb 5, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - US investors dumped major technology stocks Friday in a heavy selloff spurred by fresh jobs market data that could support another interest rate rise by the Federal Reserve.

Amazon, Netflix, Adobe, Priceline, Twitter and Facebook all shed more than 5 per cent to pull the Nasdaq Composite Index back to levels last seen in October 2014.

Also taking a beating were Dow blue chips like Nike, down 5 per cent, and McDonald's, losing 4.4 per cent, amid worries that they will also be hit by the slowing global economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 211.61 points (1.29 per cent) at 16,204.97.

The broader S&P 500 lost 35.40 (1.85 per cent) at 1,880.05, while the Nasdaq Composite fell 146.42 (3.25 per cent) to 4,363.14.

The Labour Department's January jobs report showed a slowdown in hiring but the US jobless rate fell to 4.9 per cent and wage growth picked up modestly - both data points that support the Fed further tightening policy in the coming months.

The numbers "could underpin the Fed's potential decision to continuing raising rates in 2016," said Briefing.com.

"In response to this uncertainty over the potential future of the fed funds rate, equity markets have sold off."

The selloff left few shares undamaged. Alphabet, the parent of Google, lost 3.5 per cent; Apple shed 2.7 per cent.

Starbucks fell 6.8 per cent, Microsoft 3.8 per cent, and ConocoPhillips 6.9 per cent.

LinkedIn, the employment networking website, plunged 43.6 per cent after giving a dim forecast for this year. The company beat forecasts for the fourth quarter of last year, but forecast 2016 first-quarter revenues and earnings well below what analysts have expected, blaming in part pressure from slowing global growth.

One of the few major gainers was Tyson Foods, the huge chicken and pork processor. Its shares soared 9.9 per cent as fourth-quarter profits handily beat forecasts, at $1.15 per share compared with 89 cents predicted. But revenues at US$9.2 billion were down 15.4 per cent from a year ago.

Alan Skrainka of Cornerstone Wealth Management said he was surprised at the reaction to what was from all sides a modest jobs report.

He said that it appeared the market believes the Fed "is committed to hiking rates while the economy is showing a bit of weakness here and people are worrying it's going to throw itself into a recession."

The heavy selling in tech companies likely represents a conservative shift from "growth" shares to "value" shares, he added.

"We're very confident that growth is played out.... We're starting to see today - LinkedIn has some disappointing news - that growth stocks are overvalued and the market is going to transition back to value soon."