Bears Triumph as Crude Gushes

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The blue chips tumbled 89 points in tumultuous trading Friday, but managed to claw their way back from steeper losses earlier in the session.

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Today's Markets 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 88 points, or 0.72%, to 12,169, the S&P 500 was off 9.9 points, or 0.74%, to 1,321 and Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 14 points, or 0.50%, to 2,784. The FOX 50 dipped 7.7 points to 934.

While stocks closed the day solidly in the red, they were able to pare steep losses in late trading. Even with Friday's losses, the blue chips advanced four out of the five prior weeks, and closed up 0.33% for this week.

Crude spiked $2.51, or 2.46%, to $104.42 -- the highest settle since September 2008 -- as escalating unrest in oil-producing Libya sparked fears about the stability of the worldwide supply of oil. Gains in crude futures accelerated Friday after Libyan security forces fired tear gas at protesters in a district of Libyan capital, Tripoli, according to a report by Reuters.

There are also reports of mass protests in Bahrain, the smallest of the Persian-coast oil producers.

Employers added 192,000 jobs in February -- the biggest gain since May 2010 -- pushing the unemployment rate lower from 9.0% in January to 8.9%, the Labor Department said.  The unemployment rate, however, doesn't account for the 2.7 million persons "who wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months," the report said.

The employment situation report is widely-considered to be one of the most important gauges of strength in the labor market, which has been hard-hit in the present economic downturn.

"This is a report that suggests that labor market conditions continue to improve," wrote Barclays economist, Michael Gapen, in a research note.

The number of employed individuals had been forecast to jump 185,000 for February, after increasing by 36,000 in January, according to analysts. Economists were expecting the unemployment rate to tick higher to 9.1%.

The Federal Reserve has embarked on a highly accommodative monetary policy regime in a bid to boost labor markets, and economic growth.  Indeed, a well-functioning job market is seen by many economists as a key factor in broad economic recovery.

Some market participants discounted the effect the report would have on markets, since data released earlier in the week hinted at job market growth in February.

The "positive jobs report was expected and was a prime reason for [Thursday’s] big move," said Michael James, managing director at Wedbush Securities.

While oil prices are surging, there are signs that U.S. oil supplies are secure.

According to recent data from the Energy Department, stocks of crude at a key U.S. shipping point, Cushing, Oklahoma, remain near record-levels.

The U.S. also has "substantial" oil reserves available, and "considerable" oil production capacity that can be tapped should there be a major supply disruption, according to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Also on the economic front, U.S. factory orders jumped 3.1% in January, far exceeding analysts' estimates of a gain of 2%, according to a report by the Commerce Department.

This data comes amid a slew of upbeat news, including a better-than-expected Institute of Supply Management manufacturing report, released this week, showing the economic recovery is picking up steam.

Meanwhile, the price consumers pay at the pump keeps heading higher.  The average price for regular gas is $3.47 a gallon, up from $3.11 a month ago, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.

In metals, gold, which tumbled from record highs Thursday, jumped $12.20, or 0.86%, to $1,428.

In currency markets, the U.S. dollar edged lower 0.16% against a basket of world currencies, and the euro advanced 0.16% against the greenback.

Corporate Movers

Goldman Sachs' (NYSE: GS) Chief Executive Officer, Lloyd Blankfein, has agreed to testify in the trial of Galleon-founder Raj Rajaratnam, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

Marvell (NASDAQ:MRVL) shares skid more than 8% after the BlackBerry chip-maker reported disappointing first-quarter forecasts.

Madison Square Garden (NASDAQ:MSG) said it earned 42 cents a share, missing analysts' estimates by a penny.

Novartis' (NYSE:NVS) dosing instructions for one of its lung drugs is being evaluated by FDA staff, according to documents released Friday.

Foreign Markets

In Europe, the English FTSE 100 was down 0.68% to 5,990, the French CAC 40 dropped 1% to 4,020 and the German DAX was lower by 0.65% to 7,178.

Asian markets were mostly higher: the Nikkei 225 jumped 1.02%  to 10,693 and the Chinese Hang Seng increased by 1.24% to 23,408.

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