CLOSING BELL: After weak jobs report and Syria strikes, stocks stand still
NEW YORK — 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 hiring has remained around the same monthly pace as in 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.