(Friday Pre-Market) Stocks moved higher in early action Friday as job report headlines revealed stronger-than-expected hiring in February, a steady unemployment rate, and slightly lower wages.
The U.S. economy added 242,000 jobs in February, according to the Labor Department, way above the 198,000 consensus forecast from a survey of economists polled by MarketWatch. Somewhat surprisingly, considering the robust job gains, hourly wages fell 0.1% to $25.35 an hour, but the unemployment rate remained at 4.9%, as expected. January hiring, which came in at a lower-than-expected 151,000, was revised up to 172,000.
Looking deeper into the report, hiring was strong in health care and retail. The strength in retail hiring may explain why wages didn’t rise, since retail jobs tend to be lower paying. The rate of workers not actively seeking a job or working part-time for economic reasons fell to 9.7%, the lowest since May 2008. The strong headline jobs number accompanied by falling wages and heavy retail hiring make for a mixed report, but the market responded positively early in the day.
S&P Index Approaches 2000: Just three weeks after probing depths down around 1810, the S&P 500 Index (SPX) came within a handful of points Thursday from the 2000 mark, a more than 10% turnaround since the low posted February 11. Thursday marked the third consecutive day of gains for the SPX, which finished the day up more than 2% for the week heading into the jobs report. The last time the SPX peeked above 2000 was on January 6, almost exactly two months ago. Psychological support for the SPX is at 1950.
Oil Treads Water: Crude oil futures closed about flat Thursday but remain near two-month highs. Focus remains on talk that OPEC and other key producers might freeze production, and on U.S. inventories, which reached record levels this week. However, U.S. oil production fell for the sixth straight week, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Despite the recent rally in oil from lows below $27 a barrel earlier this year, the front-month contract hasn’t closed at $35 or above, which marks psychological resistance. Meanwhile, front-month natural gas futures posted another 17-year low Thursday.
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