Stocks mixed as investors work through jobs report

Associated Press
Updated 12/7/2012 11:15 AM

NEW YORK -- The stock market was mixed Friday after the government released its latest jobs report.

The U.S. added more jobs in November, sending stock index futures up in premarket trading immediately after the report was released. But underneath the headline numbers, the monthly report gave a mixed read on the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up as much as 71 points in early trading before giving up most of those gains. Shortly after 10:30 a.m. EST, it was up 23 points to 13,097. The Standard & Poor's 500 and the Nasdaq opened higher, then turned lower.

The S&P 500 was down about a point at 1,413. The Nasdaq was down 10 to 2,979.

The main numbers from the jobs report were encouraging. The Labor Department said the U.S. added 146,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent, the lowest since December 2008.

However, the details painted a more restrained view of the economy.

"If you delve into that report a little more, there are some disturbing issues," said Brian Lund, executive vice president and co-founder of the online brokerage Ditto Trade.

The unemployment rate fell largely because discouraged unemployed workers stopped looking for work, and weren't counted among the unemployed. Also, the Labor Department revised previously released jobs numbers downward, saying that employers added 49,000 fewer jobs in October and September than initially estimated.

Lund also wasn't so sure about the government's statement that Hurricane Sandy "did not substantively impact" the unemployment numbers. He expected Sandy's detrimental effects to show up in jobs reports over the next couple of months, as businesses figured out their post-storm plans.

"If you have Sandy, you don't automatically lose your job," Lund said. "Businesses take time to say, `Oh, what's going on, can we go forward, do we need to cut people to survive? It's not until later that they start laying off."

Nicholas Colas, ConvergEx chief market strategist, was similarly unimpressed by the jobs numbers. In a note to clients, he said U.S. unemployment seems to be more consistent with "an ongoing recession than expansion."

In the recession of the early 1990s and its aftermath, the highest rate of unemployment was 7.8 percent. In the recession of the early 2000s and its aftermath, the unemployment rate never got above 6.3 percent.

This time has been harsher. In late 2009, shortly after the recession officially ended, the unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent. For two years after that, it stayed above 9 percent.

The market is also under the cloud of other challenges, notably the "fiscal cliff" drama in Washington. Congress and the White House are trying to hammer out an agreement on government spending and tax rates before Jan. 1. If they don't, government spending cuts and higher taxes will kick in.

The theatrics have made traders indecisive, as many are unwilling to make big moves until they know how the budget negotiations will be resolved. In the 21 trading days since the presidential election, the Dow has been up 10 and down 11. So far this week, it's finished up twice and down twice.

News from overseas wasn't encouraging. The Asian Development Bank, a lending institution based in the Philippines, predicted that growth will slow next year in India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of Asia.

Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, slashed its predictions for its own country's economic growth next year. Greece reported that its economy shrank again in the third quarter, by nearly 7 percent.

Among the companies making big moves:

--Apple was down $6.22 to $541.02, about 1 percent. Apple's stock has plunged more than 20 percent since the iPhone 5 went on sale Sept. 21 as investors wonder whether the company can keep the momentum going with its popular iPhone and iPad devices. Apple makes up 4 percent of the S&P 500 index and nearly 12 percent of Nasdaq, so how it fares can have an enormous effect on the rest of the market.

--AIG, the bailed-out insurance company, jumped nearly 3 percent, rising 93 cents to $34.19. A group of Chinese companies is reportedly in talks to buy AIG's aircraft leasing unit, which could help AIG raise cash to pay off more of its government loans.

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