Dow jumps 441 points, Nasdaq hits record as February job growth blows past estimates

Stocks posted sharp gains Friday, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq hitting a record high, as investors reacted to stronger February job growth than expected.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 440.52 points, or 1.77%, to 25,335.74. The S&P 500 rose 47.60 points, or 1.74%, to 2,786.57. The Nasdaq Composite jumped 132.86 points, or 1.79%, to 7,560.81.

Wall Street celebrated the nine-year anniversary of the bull market by pushing the Dow back above the 25,000 milestone after the monthly jobs report easily beat estimates. The U.S. government reported that employers created 313,000 jobs in February -- crushing analysts' forecast of 200,000, according to a survey of analysts by Reuters.

The unemployment rate held steady at 4.1% in the month, just above the 4% analysts anticipated and remaining at a 17-year low. Meanwhile, average hourly earnings grew at an annualized pace of 2.6%, a softer increase than the previous month. Recent signs of accelerated inflation growth stoked investor concerns that the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates faster than anticipated this year. The modest inflation that emerged in the February jobs report eased those concerns.

“The jobs streak remains intact, and it’s punctuating what has been a tremendous start to the year,” said Mike Loewengart, vice president of investment strategy at E*TRADE. “Economic growth, of course, is typically welcome by many. But as wages climb, and the job market continues to tighten, so does the shadow of inflation. And should that grow to uncomfortable heights, it only furthers the case for accelerated Fed action.”

The gains came against a backdrop of tariffs and North Korea developments. The tariffs that Trump officially announced called for a 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum, though Canada and Mexico are not immediately subject to those tariffs, which go into effect March 23. The exclusion of two allies eased concerns on Wall Street of increased trade tensions. Trump also has accepted an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a face-to-face meeting, which the White House said would take place no later than May of this year.

“I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of a market reaction to the North Korean story, with stocks finishing higher but without any real clear direction,” said James Hughes, chief market analyst at AxiTrader. “This could well have been offset by the tariff news as the announcement has bought widespread condemnation from all quarters.”

Shares in Asia gained early after the news broke that North Korea extended an invitation to the U.S. for President Trump to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump accepted.

The news reduced tensions in the region. Japan's Nikkei finished the day up 0.47% higher, having been up as much as 2%.

U.S. crude climbed $1.92, or 3.2%, to $62.04 a barrel. Baker Hughes said there are 984 active rigs operating in the U.S., three more than last week.