Sunday, December 17, 2017
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Weak jobs data, Syria missile strike spark safe-haven bets



U.S. stocks were little changed in choppy trading on Friday after a U.S. missile strike on Syria sent investors scurrying to safe-havens, while weak jobs data weighed on financial stocks.

U.S. employers added about 98,000 jobs in March, the fewest since last May and below economists' expectation of 180,000, as bad weather hit hiring at construction sites. However, wage growth ticked up slightly and the unemployment rate fell.

Bank stocks were hit the most. The S&P 500 financial index .SPSY was down 0.56 percent, the biggest decliner among the 11 major S&P 500 sectors.

This morning's job numbers place another speed bump in front of the equity rally," said Chris Gaffney, president of world markets at EverBank in St. Louis.

At 12:23 p.m. ET (1623 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 10.89 points, or 0.05 percent, at 20,673.84, the S&P 500 .SPX was up 0.62 points, or 0.02 percent, at 2,358.11 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was up 1.84 points, or 0.03 percent, at 5,880.79.

These payroll numbers and the missile strike in Syria will give investors cause for concern. Any momentum in the markets has now been sucked out," Gaffney said.

The United States late on Thursday fired several missiles at an airfield in Syria from which a deadly chemical attack was launched earlier this week.

The news of the attack sent global stocks lower, with the S&P 500 futures index falling as much as 0.5 percent. But most of the losses ebbed after U.S. officials described the attack as a one-off that would not lead to wider escalation.

The industrials sector .SPLRCL was up 0.23 percent, led by weapons makers and defense companies. Raytheon (RTN.N), which makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles used in the strike, jumped 1.5 percent.

Lockheed Martin (LMT.N), General Dynamics (GD.N) and Northrop Grumman (NOC.N) were up between 1.3 percent and 1.6 percent.

Other sectors that gained were utilities .SPLRCU and telecom services .SPLRCL sectors, preferred investment options in times of uncertainty due to their slow but predictable growth. Gold prices hit a five-month high.

Consumer staples, another defensive sector, was lifted by a 1.8 percent rise in Wal-Mart (WMT.N) after Telsey Advisory upgraded the retailer's stock to "outperform".

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,505 to 1,272. On the Nasdaq, 1,382 issues fell and 1,317 advanced.

The S&P 500 index showed nine 52-week highs and one low, while the Nasdaq recorded 39 highs and 30 lows.

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