World and Nation

Greek debt and a weak job sector weigh on investors

A tense day for Wall Street ended with a tinge of hope, as a rise in commodity prices helped temper anxiety about Greek debt and the American jobs market.

The major indexes never left negative territory on Thursday, but a late surge helped shares bounce back from steep declines earlier in the day.

From the start, stocks seemed poised for a gloomy day, with the Dow Jones industrial average plunging nearly 200 points minutes after the open. By late afternoon, a rise in prices of commodities like gold and cotton and a flight from the dollar helped the markets regain some of their losses.

Gold rose 1 percent on Thursday, while cotton gained 2.54 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average declined 0.51 percent, or 53.13 points, to 10,321.03. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell 0.21 percent, or 2.3 points, to 1,102.94. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 0.08 percent, or 1.68 points, to 2,234.22.

The Treasury’s 10-year note rose 15/32, to 99 30/32. The yield fell to 3.63 percent, from 3.69 percent late Wednesday.

Much of the angst on Wall Street and in Europe stemmed from the debt crisis in Greece. Investors were upset by reports that the rating agencies Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s were considering a downgrade of Greece’s debt, possibly to junk status. While the European Union has pledged to help pre-empt a default in Greece, that has not entirely eased concerns that the debt crisis could spread.

“This is another log on the pyre,” said Uri D. Landesman, head of global growth at ING. “Now the focus turns to other countries — Spain and Italy — where a sovereign debt crisis would be infinitely more important.”

Landesman said that he believed investors had come to view the early sell-off as an overreaction to “old news.”

In Europe, markets retreated sharply. Investors were weighing a report by the European Commission that predicted growth of 0.7 percent this year and highlighted the weakness of housing markets, industrial output and retail sales.

The FTSE 100 index in London declined 1.21 percent, the CAC 40 in Paris fell 2.02 percent, and the DAX in Frankfurt dropped 1.48 percent.

The euro settled at $1.3545, after nearing a nine-month low.

A snapshot of the American labor market showed that many more people than expected filed first-time unemployment claims last week. Weekly jobless claims rose 22,000, to 496,000 — the highest level in more than three months. A closely watched four-week average, considered a more accurate barometer of the jobs market, gained unexpectedly as well.