After weak jobs report and Syria strikes, stocks stand still
By MARLEY JAY
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks never got going Friday after a slightly disappointing jobs report and word of U.S. missile strikes against Syria. Investors bought shares of defense contractors and stocks that are traditionally considered safe.
Stocks moved between gains and losses all morning after the Labor Department said employers didn’t add as many jobs as analysts had forecast. They started to rise in afternoon trading, but those gains didn’t last. Investors bought high-dividend stocks like real estate investment trusts and household goods makers, but banks and energy companies fell.
Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said he is not surprised the stock market did not have an overwhelming reaction to the jobs report or missile strikes because neither really altered investors’ views of the U.S. economy.
“It was not a bad (jobs) report, it was just another in a long, long, long line of not bad, not great reports,” he said. Wren said the economy probably won’t grow much faster over the next few years because the Federal Reserve plans to keep raising interest rates, which makes borrowing more expensive.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 slid 1.95 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,355.54. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 6.85 points to 20,656.10. The Nasdaq composite dipped 1.14 points to 5,877.71. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks inched up 0.14 points to 1,364.56.
While stocks didn’t move much overall, there were a few clear trends. Investors mostly avoided industries whose performance is closely linked to the state of the economy.
The government said employers added 98,000 jobs in March, which was weaker than the last few months and about half as many as analysts had predicted. One-time factors including snowstorms may have temporarily slowed hiring. The unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent, its lowest level since 2007, as more people found work.
Over the last three months, employers had added an average of 178,000 jobs a month. That’s just a bit slower than the monthly average from 2016.
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 VIX, known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” started rising late Thursday as the U.S. government shifted its policy on Syria.
Earlier the price of gold jumped to its highest price since right after the presidential election in November, and bond prices climbed. But that didn’t last long, and bond prices turned lower late in the day. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.38 percent from 2.34 percent.
Still, the increased geopolitical uncertainty sent defense stocks higher. Raytheon added $2.21, or 1.5 percent, to $152.96 and Lockheed Martin rose $3.12, or 1.2 percent, to $270.23.
Among high-dividend stocks, Wal-Mart gained $1.47, or 2.1 percent, to $72.90 and Prologis rose 52 cents, or 1 percent, to $53.58.
The military strikes in the Middle East sent crude prices higher. U.S. oil added 54 cents, or 1 percent, to $52.24 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, rose 35 cents to $55.24 a barrel in London.
Twenty-First Century Fox declined for the fifth day in a row as advertisers continued to pull their ads from “The O’Reilly Factor.” Less than a week ago, the New York Times reported that Fox News and Bill O’Reilly, the network’s most popular prime-time host, have paid $13 million to five women to settle allegations of sexual misconduct. Kantar Media says the show brought in more than $100 million in advertising revenue in 2016. The stock lost 5 cents to $31.07 and fell 4.1 percent this week.
Wells Fargo dipped after an influential firm that advises big shareholders says most of its board of directors should be removed. Institutional Shareholder Services said the board isn’t doing enough to oversee the bank’s sales practices. A second firm also recommended that a large portion of the board be replaced at the Wells Fargo shareholder meeting later this month.
Wells Fargo recently agreed to pay $110 million to settle a class-action lawsuit after its employees opened more than 2 million accounts without customers’ permission. CEO John Stumpf abruptly retired after the scandal came to light and thousands of employees were fired. On Friday Wells Fargo stock fell 53 cents, or 1 percent, to $54.84.
Gold finished up $4 at $1,257.30. Silver lost 10 cents to $18.15 an ounce. Copper declined 1 cent to $2.65 a pound.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline gained 2 cents to $1.75 a gallon. Heating oil rose 2 cent to $1.63 a gallon. Natural gas slid 7 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $3.26 per 1,000 cubic feet.
The dollar dipped to 111.15 yen from 110.78 yen. The euro fell to $1.0588 from $1.0646.
In Britain, the FTSE 100 index was 0.6 percent higher and the French CAC 40 rose 0.3 percent. Germany’s DAX hardly budged. 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.
AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/marley-jay