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Stocks turn lower after February jobs data

March 07, 2009|Associated Press

NEW YORK — Investors have gotten used to bad news, but layoffs topping 650,000 a month still made for a volatile day on Wall Street on Friday, capping another difficult week for the stock market.

Share prices initially rose after the Labor Department released its February jobs report, then fell and finally clawed their way back to a mixed close.

With many big investors waiting for positive signs from the economy before making any major commitments, analysts say, the market is being driven largely by "short" traders, who sell borrowed stock and then buy it back in hopes that the price will decline in the meantime. That makes for a choppy, unpredictable market.

"The shorts are having a complete field day in this environment," said Kent Engelke, managing director at Capitol Securities Management in Glen Allen, Va.

Some of the week's economic data, including retail sales and factory orders Thursday, were better than expected but not enough to encourage investors to buy stocks.

The job numbers Friday were worse than analysts had forecast, but not as bad as some investors had feared.

Employers cut a net 651,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate jumped to 8.1%. The government also revised its December and January job loss figures up to 681,000 and 655,000, respectively.

The Dow Jones industrials climbed 32.50 points, or 0.5%, to 6,626.94.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.83 of a point, or 0.1%, to 683.38, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 5.74 points, or 0.4%, to 1,293.85.

For the week, the Dow lost 6.2% and the S&P 500 slumped 7%. Each has fallen 24% since the start of 2009.

The Dow is at its lowest point since the spring of 1997. The S&P 500 is at its lowest level since September 1996.

The Nasdaq fell 6.1% for the week to a six-year low.

On Friday, three stocks fell for every two that rose on the New York Stock Exchange.

Financial stocks were the worst performing sector in the S&P 500, losing 1.4% as a group. JPMorgan Chase dropped 4%, Goldman Sachs Group sank 7.4% and Morgan Stanley fell 4.5%.

Wells Fargo rose 2.2% after saying it would cut its dividend to 5 cents a share from 35 cents, following last week's move by JPMorgan to cut its payout to shareholders.

Citigroup, which slipped below $1 a share for the first time Thursday, rose by a penny to $1.03.

General Motors shares continued their free fall, sliding 41 cents to $1.45, as speculation about the automaker's future swirled. Members of the Obama administration's auto task force met again Friday with the company's stakeholders.

The Treasury bond market was also mixed.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.83% from 2.82% late Thursday. The yield on the three-month T-bill fell to 0.18% from 0.2%.

Gold prices gained as the dollar was mixed against other major currencies.

Oil prices rose. Crude futures climbed $1.91 to settle at $45.52 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In overseas markets, key stock indexes fell 3.5% in Japan, 2.4% in Hong Kong, 0.8% in Germany and 1.4% in France. Shares in Britain edged up.

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