Shaky start for stocks on Syria strike and weak jobs gains
U.S. stocks are wobbling Friday morning as the combination of a weak jobs report and U.S. missile strikes against Syria have investors on edge. Investors are buying bonds, gold, and high-dividend stocks as they look for safe venues to put their money. Bond yields are down, and banks are skidding. Defense contractors are trading higher. The Labor Department said hiring slowed down in March.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slipped 1 point, less than 0.1 percent, to 2,356 as of 10:20 a.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 10 points, or 0.1 percent, to 20,653. The Nasdaq composite fell 7 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,871. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks sank 1 point, or 0.2 percent, to 1,363.
HIRING: The government said employers added 98,000 jobs in March, about half as many as analysts had predicted. Hiring dropped off somewhat after a few months of strong job growth that was linked to warm weather that boosted hiring in construction. The monthly job gains in January and February were revised a bit lower as well, which meant that hiring over the last three months continued at about the same pace as 2016. The unemployment rate fell to a 10-year low of 4.5 percent.
AIRSTRIKES: Overnight, the U.S. launched a missile attack on a Syrian air force base following a chemical weapons strike blamed on the government of President Bashar Assad earlier in the week. The move was condemned by Russia and Iran. The U.S. government started shifting its policy on Syria before the close of trading Wednesday, which pushed the VIX, known as Wall Street’s "fear gauge," higher.
The increased geopolitical uncertainty gave something of a boost to defense contractor stocks. Raytheon added $1.19 to $151.94 and Lockheed Martin rose $1.59 to $268.70. L3 Technologies climbed $1.91, or 1.2 percent, to $164.81.
SEEKING SAFETY: The price of gold jumped 1.2 percent to $1,268.80 an ounce, its highest price since right after the presidential election in November. Bond prices edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.31 percent from 2.34 percent. Lower bond yields mean lower interest rates and small profits on lending, and that hurt bank stocks. Capital One fell 92 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $83.31. U.S. Bancorp declined 32 cents to $51.03.
Phone companies, utilities, real estate investment trusts and household goods makers all traded higher. Wal-Mart gained 92 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $72.35 and Realty Income Corp. added 49 cents to $60.66.
ENERGY: The price of oil inched higher. U.S. crude added 17 cents to $51.86 a barrel in New York, while Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, rose 9 cents to $54.98 a barrel in London.
CURRENCIES: The dollar dipped to 110.72 yen from 110.78 yen. The euro fell to $1.0626 from $1.0646.
OVERSEAS: Germany’s DAX was down 0.2 percent and the French CAC 40 was little changed. In Britain, the FTSE 100 index was 0.5 percent higher. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 0.4 percent. The Kospi of South Korea lost 0.1 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was little changed.