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Wall Street switched between gains and losses as traders parsed through a 'curious' jobs report that showed anemic job growth, coupled with a sizeable drop in the unemployment rate.
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As of 3:30 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 4.3 points, or 0.03%, to 16439, the S&P 500 rose 4.2 points, or 0.23%, to 1842 and the Nasdaq Composite advanced 14.6 points, or 0.36%, to 4171.
It's Jobs Friday, as it's called in Wall Street parlance. The big monthly jobs report is considered to be one of the most important pieces of monthly economic data. It's taken on even more significance in recent months because the Federal Reserve is trying to lower the unemployment rate while putting upward pressure on inflation.
The U.S. economy added 74,000 jobs in December, the smallest increase since January 2011, far below the 196,000 jobs Wall Street expected.
The unemployment rate fell to 6.7%, the lowest since October 2008, compared to estimates it would hold steady at 7%. The labor force participation rate, which gauges the proportion of the working-age population in the labor force, fell to 62.8% in December from 63%.
"We stop short of making larger observations based on this number," Dan Greenhaus, chief market strategist at BTIG wrote in an email. "The economy, based on any number of other indicators, has been picking up steam of late which makes today’s number….curious."
A strong ADP report, which gauges private-sector employment, earlier in the week has caused some investment banks, including Goldman Sachs, to boost their economic forecasts this week.
In corporate news, Alcoa (NYSE:AA) kicked off earnings season by posting mixed quarterly results. Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD) tumbled after the retailer posted a big drop in comparable-store sales.
Elsewhere, U.S. crude oil futures climbed 83 cents, or 0.91%, to $92.49 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline climbed 0.56% to $2.657 a gallon. Gold advanced $3.80, or 0.31%, to $1,233 a troy ounce.