NEW YORK – Stocks firmed slightly on Friday after a key U.S. jobs report showed the pace of hiring by employers had eased slightly in December but gave signals of some momentum in the labor market's recovery since the 2007-09 recession.
Data from the Institute for Supply Management showed the vast U.S. services sector in December grew at its fastest clip in 10 months, boosted by a rise in new orders. The market's reaction to both releases was modest.
New orders received by U.S. factories were flat in November, missing expectations as demand for aircraft sank sharply, although a gauge of business spending plans gave a positive sign for the economy.
Shares of Nasdaq heavyweight Apple Inc fell nearly 2 percent, pressuring the tech-heavy index. Adding to concerns about the iPhone maker's ability to produce more innovative products going forward, rival Samsung Electronics Co Ltd <005930.KS> is expected to widen its lead over Apple in global smartphone sales this year with 35 percent growth, propped up by a broad product lineup, according to market researcher Strategy Analytics.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 7.79 points, or 0.06 percent, at 13,399.15. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 1.95 points, or 0.13 percent, at 1,461.32. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 6.50 points, or 0.21 percent, at 3,094.06.
Though the jobs data showed lackluster economic growth was unable to make a dent in the still-high U.S. unemployment rate, it calmed fears about the possibility of the U.S. Federal Reserve ending its highly stimulative monetary policy.
Concerns about the endurance of the Fed's stimulus program prompted investors to pull back from the market Thursday after a two-day rally.
According to the Labor Department, payrolls outside the farming sector grew 155,000 last month, as expected and slightly below the level for November. Gains in employment were distributed broadly throughout the economy, from manufacturing and construction to health care.
Minutes from the Fed's December policy meeting, released Thursday, showed Fed officials were increasingly worried about the risks of asset purchases on financial markets, though they looked set to continue with the open-ended stimulus program for now.
Some policymakers thought asset buying should be slowed or stopped before the end of 2013 while others highlighted the need for further stimulus. The Fed's policy of easy credit has helped push the S&P 500 to a 13.4 percent gain in 2012. Ending that policy would remove an incentive for investors to purchase riskier assets like stocks.
Apple shares were down nearly 2 percent at $532.27 in morning trade. The stock has been on a downward trend over the past few months on concerns about demand for the iPhone 5 and the company's capability to produce more innovation products in the future.
Pharmaceuticals maker Eli Lilly and Co. said on Friday it expects 2013 earnings to increase to $3.75 to $3.90 per share excluding items from $3.30 to $3.40 per share in 2012. The stock rose 2.5 percent to $50.94.
Mosaic Co reported that its quarterly operating profit fell 30 percent as international distributors delayed buying potash and phosphate to avert the price risk associated with the fertilizer producer's negotiations with China and India. The stock rose 1.5 percent to $57.62.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)