European natural-gas prices have soared more than 500% so far this year.

Chatchawan Akarapratchayakul/Dreamstime

The stock market was falling Wednesday, as volatility that has characterized trading this week continued while investors look to the U.S. jobs report Friday as a possible source of stability.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average indicated an open 250 points lower after the index seesawed this week—dropping more than 300 points Monday before rebounding a similar amount Tuesday to close at 34,314. Futures for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq indicated a similarly weak open, with Nasdaq-100 futures down more than 1%.

The forces driving markets remained largely unchanged. Investors fretted about issues including inflation, a global energy crunch—wherein surging oil prices further add to global inflation fears—supply-chain pressures, the U.S. debt ceiling, and the future of central bank stimulus.

Analysts noted the market is looking ahead to the U.S. jobs report Friday, which measures nonfarm payrolls, as a possible source of stability amid a week of volatility. The Federal Reserve has indicated that it will closely watch employment indicators as it considers slowing its program of monthly asset purchases, which add liquidity to markets.

“The choppy week continues as markets continue to chase their tails in a light data week,” said Jeffrey Halley, an analyst at broker Oanda.

“Despite the best hopes of the perpetual mega-bulls, the path of least resistance is lower at the moment. I am expecting the markets to continue tying themselves in knots over the next few sessions until we, hopefully, get a decisive nonfarm payrolls print,” Halley added. “It will allow some clarity on the Federal Reserve taper path and positioning appropriately.”

Overseas, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 fell 1.1% as investors grappled with the possible impact of the new prime minister Fumio Kishida’s economic policies. Frankfurt’s DAX dropped 1.9% after German factory orders declined 7.7% in August amid supply-chain issues—a sharp move lower after a 4.9% increase in July.

European sentiment was also weighed on amid a global energy crunch that has seen natural-gas prices in the region rise more than 500% since the beginning of the year—spiking 20% on Tuesday alone.

“The importance of these moves on inflation, growth and external accounts are not to be underestimated. To put things in context, accounting for relative energy usage in Europe for example, the natural-gas price rise seen this year is equivalent to oil trading around $200 per barrel now,” said George Saravelos, a strategist at Deutsche Bank. “These price moves are a big deal.”

Inflationary pressures and the energy pinch continue to boost oil, with futures for international benchmark Brent continuing to rise, up 0.3% to around $82.80 a barrel. U.S. oil futures were similarly higher, with West Texas Intermediate above $79.10 as it approaches the psychologically important $80 mark.

Elsewhere, the New Zealand central bank was in the spotlight after it raised rates for the first time in seven years with a hike of the main cash rate by 25 basis points to 0.5%. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand warned about persistent cost pressures and how inflation was expected to rise above 4% in the near term.

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