Strong Jobs Data Catapults S&P to Record High

U.S. stocks surged on Friday, with the S&P 500 touching a record intraday high after a second straight month of robust labor market data brightened the economic outlook.

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The U.S. Labor Department report showed that nonfarm payrolls rose by 255,000 in July, far exceeding estimates of 180,000.

While unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.9 percent, it stayed below the 5 percent mark associated with full employment. Average hourly wages rose by 8 cents.

The S&P 500 touched 2,180.78, its ninth record intraday high since July.

"(The data) cements the view that the economy is improving despite the recent negative news from GDP," said Aaron Kohli, an interest rate strategist at BMO Capital Markets in New York.

The data also suggests that the April and May jobs numbers were an aberration and that June was more consistent with what is going on in the economy, he said. The June employment number was revised to 292,000 from 287,000.

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However, the Fed may wait for GDP growth to improve and inflation to meet its 2 percent target before pulling the trigger on rates.

The chances of a rate hike doubled to 18 percent for September after the jobs report and rose to 40 percent from 29.4 percent for December, according to CME Group's FedWatch tool. But those numbers do not rise significantly even until July next year.

"I'm not sure this (jobs data) is enough to move the needle in either direction for the Fed," said Curt Long, chief economist at National Association Of Federal Credit Unions in Washington.

At 12:18 p.m. ET (1618 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> was up 166.11 points, or 0.91 percent, at 18,518.16.

The S&P 500 index <.SPX> was up 17.87 points, or 0.83 percent, at 2,182.12.

The Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> was up 58.08 points, or 1.12 percent, at 5,224.33. The index surpassed its record closing high and is on track to mark its sixth straight week of gains.

Eight of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were higher, led by a 1.69 percent surge in the financials index <.SPSY>. The sector was trading at its highest level since the start of the year.

The CBOE volatility index <.VIX>, also known as Wall Street's "fear gauge", was trading at a 12-month low of 11.26, indicating that risk appetite had improved.

Banks, which stand to gain if the Fed raises rates, were among the biggest drivers of the S&P. JPMorgan <JPM.N>, Bank of America <BAC.N> and Citigroup <C.N> rose about 3 percent.

Bristol-Myers <BMY.N> plunged 17 percent after its lung cancer drug failed in a late-stage study, while Merck <MRK.N>, which makes a rival drug, rose 6 percent.

Bristol-Myers was the biggest drag on the S&P, while Merck gave the index its biggest boost.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,134 to 751. On the Nasdaq, 2,014 issues rose and 717 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 27 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 101 new highs and 19 new lows.

(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)