US stocks end flat after strong jobs data

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street stocks stumbled to a lacklustre close on Friday (July 8) following employment data underscoring the strength of the US labour market but also suggesting more Federal Reserve interest rate hikes ahead.

Major indices see-sawed throughout the day but still notched solid gains for the week with investors weighing optimism that the US economy can withstand higher borrowing costs, against fears the Fed will do too much to choke off growth and cause a downturn.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped less that 0.2 per cent to finish at 31,338.48, while the broad-based S&P 500 edged down 0.1 per cent to 3,899.38.

The tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index added 0.1 per cent to close at 11,635.31, capping five days of steady gains and posting a 4.6 per cent increase for the week..

The US economy added 372,000 new positions in June, nearly 100,000 more than economists forecast, and the unemployment rate held steady at 3.6 per cent, the Labor Department reported.

Average hourly earnings rose to cement a 5.1 per cent increase over the past 12 months, the report said.

Wage growth has slowed in recent months adding to hope central bankers can take their foot off the brakes sooner than previously expected.

Gregori Volokhine of Meeschaert Financial Services said markets had a scare early in the final trading session of the week, fearing the Fed could "become too aggressive" with the economy doing so well.

But an alternate reading is that "the Fed could be aggressive early and quickly, and it may be that it has all but finished its work in September and the economy will bear it," he told AFP.

But the hope is the United States avoids the "worst-case scenario" for investors, where the economy slows but inflation stays high and the Fed continues to hike rates.

The jobs report was "not necessarily ideal but it offers comfort about the economy and gives the impression that the Fed will not do too much damage too quickly by tightening monetary conditions," Volokhine said.

Among individual companies, Twitter dropped 5.1 per cent following a report from The Washington Post that Elon Musk's US$44 billion (S$60 billion) deal to buy the social media giant is in danger.

Levi Strauss gained 1 per cent as it reported better-than-expected results and raised its dividend by 20 per cent.

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