Stocks close flat after mixed jobs report, Syria airstrike

Stocks ended little changed Friday as investors parsed a mixed employment report, a U.S. airstrike in Syria and comments from a top Federal Reserve official.

The Dow lost 6 points, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq indexes closed less than 0.1 percent lower.

The U.S. economy added 98,000 jobs last month, well below the expected gain of 180,000. The unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent from 4.7 percent. Wage growth was not as strong either, with average hourly earnings up by 2.7 percent on an annualized basis.

“It is certainly the most unusual jobs report I’ve seen in a while,” said Scott Clemons, a chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. “There was something for everybody.”

“Investors are taking this as a sign they should be a little more cautious in their portfolios,” said Kate Warne, an investment strategist at Edward Jones. “While the headline payroll was considerably weaker, it was more of a mixed report when you look at the other components.”

Investors were also contending with a U.S. airstrike in Syria, which sent 59 Tomahawk missiles Thursday night.

The missiles targeted the Shayrat air base near Homs, and were in response to a Tuesday chemical weapons attack. Officially announcing the strike, President Donald Trump said the targeted airfield had launched the chemical attack on a rebel-held area, and he called on other nations to oppose Syria’s embattled leader.

“The military response last night was in keeping with what the U.S. has done in the past,” said Brown Brothers’ Clemons. “I think that’s giving the market some comfort for now. But if the situation escalates, … that could bee a negative for sentiment in the market.”

Trump ordered the airstrike as he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, where the two leaders are expected to discuss trade and North Korea, among other issues.

Talking at the Princeton Club of New York, New York Fed President William Dudley said the U.S. should consider small adjustments to the Dodd-Frank law, which toughened oversight for financial institutions.

“No one wants to be on the wrong side of this deregulation trade,” said Nick Raich, the CEO of The Earnings Scout. The prospects of deregulation have been a boon for equities since the U.S. election.

The U.S. dollar rose 0.25 percent against a basket of currencies, with the euro near $1.062 and the yen around 110.77.

Advancers were a step ahead of decliners at the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 155 million and a composite volume of 676 million in midmorning trade.

Fred Imbert

CNBC’s Jeff Cox and Everett Rosenfeld contributed to this report.

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