Stocks stay flat despite a rough ride over weak jobs data, Syria

September 6, 2013

After a volatile day, stocks ended Friday mostly unchanged, as traders weighed a weak jobs report for August and the ongoing tensions between the United States and Syria.

While stock indexes ended close to where they began, they had a rough ride during the day. Stocks opened slightly higher but soon fell after the Russian news media reported that naval ships were en route to Syria, stoking fears of a wider conflict and sending the Dow Jones industrial average down as much 148 points in the first half-hour of trading.

By the end of the day, the Dow had risen as high as 15,009 and dropped as low as 14,789. It closed down 14.98 points, or 0.1 percent, at 14,922.50.

“Clearly, [Russia] made the market nervous,” said Dean Junkans, chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank.

The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index rose less than a point, or 0.01 percent, to close at 1,655.17, and the Nasdaq composite rose 1.23 points, or 0.03 percent, to 3,660.01.

Traders were rattled by conflicting forces. A mediocre August jobs report suggested that U.S. economic growth was slowing, but provided a reason for the Fed to keep up its stimulus program. The geopolitical risks of Syria added to the uncertainty Friday.

One clear trend emerged: Investors moved money into safer assets. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.94 percent from 3 percent the day before. Relatively safe, dividend-paying stocks such as utilities were among the best performers in the S&P 500, and gold rose more than 1 percent.

The price of oil surged to its highest level in more than two years on a combination of escalating tension in the Middle East and hope for continued stimulus from the Federal Reserve.

Benchmark oil for October delivery rose $2.16, or 2 percent, to close at $110.53 a barrel in New York. That was the highest closing price since May 3, 2011.

Even after a bumpy Friday, the S&P 500 had its best week in two months. It rose 1.4 percent for the week.

U.S. employers added 169,000 jobs in August, fewer than the 177,000 that economists had forecast. The number of job additions in July was estimated by the government at 104,000, down from an earlier 162,000.

Friday’s jobs survey was the last major piece of economic data the Fed will have to consider before its Sept. 17-18 policy meeting, when it will decide the fate of its large bond-buying program.

The Fed has been buying $85 billion in Treasurys and other bonds each month to keep interest rates at historic lows and to encourage spending and borrowing. It was widely believed that the Fed would start phasing out its purchases this month.

Most market watchers still believe the Fed will start easing back in September, but the amount of the pullback may be smaller, said David Chalupnik, head of equities for Nuveen Asset Management.

Stocks making big moves included:

●Mattress Firm, which plunged $6.10, or 15 percent, to $35.59 after the company reported a second-quarter profit that fell far below financial analysts’ expectations.

●VeriFone Systems jumped $2.09, or 10 percent, to $22.81 after the electronic payment terminal maker reported third-quarter results Thursday that beat Wall Street expectations.

— Associated Press

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