A robust Federal Employment Report triggered a wobbly morning trading session as investors weighed the impact of economic news on interest rate hikes this year.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.01 percent to 16,946 while the S&P 500 was down 0.5 percent to 1,992 and the Nasdaq gained 0.6 percent to 2,253. The S&P 500 Retailing Industry Group rose 0.1 percent to 1,227.85.
The top gainers included Aéropostale Inc., up 23.9 percent to 45 cents; Avon Products Inc. with a 7.4 percent gain to $4.35; Bon-Ton Stores Inc., up 7 percent to $2; Stage Stores Inc. with a 6.9 percent increase to $7.49; Vince Holding Corp. with a 5.9 percent gain to $6.81; Elizabeth Arden Inc. with a 5.5 percent increase to $6.14, and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. with a 4.3 percent jump to $15.64.
Decliners included Delta Apparel Inc., down 1 percent to $18.53; Movado Group Inc. with a 0.8 percent drop to $30.10; VF Corp., with a 0.7 percent decline to $65.48; Burlington Stores Inc., which was down 1.3 percent to $54.49, and Perry Ellis International Inc. with a 1.8 percent decline to $19.49.
On the jobs front, the U.S. added 242,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in February, which exceeded estimates of about 190,000. The unemployment rate for the month remained at 4.9 percent.
Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, described the report as “good news” and added that the labor force participation rate rose to 62.9 percent from 62.7. But the “not-so-good news” was that the work week fell by 0.2 hours. Also disappointing was that average hourly earnings dropped 0.1 percent in February, which followed a 0.5 percent gain in January.
“Anyone looking for weakness found it in the declines in hours worked and average hourly earnings,” Behravesh said. “While some of this may be monthly ‘noise,’ both measures have been pretty flat in the past year.”
Behravesh said his firm expects payroll “employment gains to remain solid in the coming months — over 200,000 each month. We also expect the unemployment rate to edge down to 4.6 percent by year-end.”