Wall Street did its best to put a positive spin on today's unemployment report, but could only stop the stock market's slide, not reverse it.
Small gains today left stocks with big losses for the week--the Dow Jones industrial average down 276 points, the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index down 33 points, the Nasdaq Stock Market composite index down 61 points.
Strong early gains triggered this morning by the September jobs report faded as economists cautioned that the numbers don't tell the full story.
The unemployment rate rose to 5.1 percent from 4.9 percent and the economy lost 35,000 jobs last month--far fewer than feared. But the government survey was taken before Hurricane Rita hit, wiping out even more jobs.
Still economists said the relatively small job loss shows that overall the nation is doing well, despite record energy prices and rising interest rates.
Release of the unemployment report before the closing bell lifted the Dow Jones industrial average some 60 points, but the retreat began within half an hour and the market was barely above break-even by the close.
The Dow gained five points to 10,292.31. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index advanced four to 1,195.90. The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index picked up six, closing at 2,090.35.
Still today's trading left the indexes right where they were three months ago, with the hard-won gains of July, August and September wiped out and all three indexes down for the year--the S&P off 1.3 percent, the Nasdaq off 3.9 percent and the Dow off 4.5 percent.
Some prominent Wall Street economists this week renewed their predictions that the market will end the year with small gains. But that's going to require some serious catching up with just 12 weeks of trading left.