Stocks plunged today after a confusing report on the job market left traders debating how healthy the economy is right now and what the Federal Reserve is going to do next.
Only 78,000 new jobs were created during May, the Labor Department reported. The unemployment rate officially dropped from 5.2 percent to 5.1 percent, but government statisticians said the rate both months was somewhere between the two numbers and simply rounded up last month, but down this month.
When the charges in economic data are less than one-tenth of a percentage point, even Wall Street's best tea-leaf readers can't make much of it.
The weak job growth was obvious, but what it says about the economy and whether it will affect the Fed's decisions on interest rates was not at all clear.
Some Fed-watchers claimed that if economic growth is slowing, the Fed will stop raising short-term rates. Others insisted the jobs number won't make any difference to the Fed.
Bond traders were just as confused, first driving interest rates on 10-year Treasury bonds down to 3.8 percent, then after reconsidering the data, pushing rates back up to 3.98 percent.
The tie breaker for the stock market may have been the price of crude oil, which jumped sharply again today after pulling back yesterday. At the close of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil had climbed $1.40 to $55.03 a barrel, up more than 6 percent this week.
Crude oil fell off Wall Street's radar screen for a time, but it is once again looming over the market -- and the economy.
Today the Dow Jones industrial average fell 93 points to 10,460.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index lost eight points to 1,196.02. The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index fell 26 points to 2,071.43.
For the week, the Dow was off 81 points, the S&P lost almost three points and the Nasdaq composite fell four points.