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U.S. equity markets turned red on Friday, shedding earlier gains driven by a better-than-expected February jobs report.
As of 1:40 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) climbed 3 points, or 0.02%, to 16425, the S&P 500 (GSPC) declined 3.7 points, or 0.2%, to 1873 and the Nasdaq Composite (IXIC) declined 29.2 points, or 0.67%, to 4323.
The Labor Department's monthly reading on the labor market is widely considered to be one of the most important economic indicators. Data have shown the economy has taken a hit from bad weather that swept across the country for the last several months.
Economists at investment banks from Nomura to Goldman Sachs said weather likely restrained hiring in February, especially in industries like construction and manufacturing.
The U.S. economy added 175,000 jobs in February, higher than the 149,000 Wall Street was anticipating, while the data from the previous two months were revised higher. The jobless rate in February climbed 0.1 percentage point to 6.7%, slightly higher than the 6.6% economists expected, while the labor force participation rate remained the same at 63%.
"Severe winter weather looks to have less of a dampened effect on hiring by U.S. companies than anticipated," Chris Williamson, chief economist at London-based Markit, said in a note to clients.
Still, Williamson noted the three-month average jobs gains are the lowest since July 2012.
"The dilemma facing policymakers is whether this slower hiring trend in recent months is just a symptom of employers not recruiting due to the extreme weather, or if there is more malign underlying weakening of the economy," he said.
The Commerce Department said the U.S. trade gap rose in January to $39.1 billion, higher than the $39 billion deficit economists expected, and up from $39 billion the month prior. The data are a lagging indicator, but they will figure directly into estimates of first-quarter economic growth.
Elsewhere, U.S. crude oil futures rose 29 cents, or 0.29%, to $101.85 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline dipped 0.13% to $2.94 a gallon. Gold slumped $1.70, or 0.13%, to $1,350 a troy ounce.