US stocks dip as March job growth lags

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street stocks finished modestly lower on Friday (April 7), digesting a lacklustre US jobs report and news of Pentagon missile strikes on Syria that lifted defence shares.

The Labour Department reported that the US added just 98,000 jobs in March, far below the expected amount, while unemployment fell to 4.5 per cent, its lowest level in nearly 10 years.

President Donald Trump's decision to order military strikes on Syria plunges Washington deeper into the country's tragedy, although officials said it does not mark a new strategy to oust Bashar al-Assad by force.

The move came as Trump met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for the first time in a closely watched summit at the president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost less than 0.1 per cent at 20,656.10.

The broad-based S&P 500 shed 0.1 per cent to 2,355.54, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index ended a bit lower at 5,877.81.

Analysts described investors as relatively unmoved by the Syria action, viewing it as a one-off decision. However, oil prices, ever sensitive to uncertainty in the Middle East, rose following the military move.

Sam Stovall of CFRA said disappointment over the employment data was offset by the recognition that it might blunt the Federal Reserve's interest in aggressively hiking interest rates.

"We can still have a moderate path of interest rate increases," Stovall said.

Defense shares were boosted by Trump's action on Syria, with missile maker Raytheon gaining 1.5 per cent. Lockheed Martin climbed 1.2 per cent, Northrop Grumman 0.9 per cent and Boeing 0.8 per cent.

Wal-Mart Stores was the biggest gainer in the Dow, rising 2.1 per cent following an upgrade by Telsey Advisory Group.