US stocks tread water ahead of July jobs report

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street stocks ended nearly flat Thursday (Aug 4) ahead of a July jobs report that is expected to show slower employment growth in the United States compared with last month.

Analysts expect the Labour Department report to show the US added 185,000 jobs in July, down from 287,000 in June.

A strong report could offset concerns after last week's weak report on second-quarter economic growth, while a poor report likely would be seen as further dimming the odds for a Federal Reserve interest rate hike.

"Investors are sitting tight," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped less than 0.1 per cent to 18,352.05.

The broad-based S&P 500 was up less than 0.1 per cent at 2,164.25, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.1 per cent to 5,166.25.

Twenty-First Century Fox slumped 4.4 per cent despite reporting a big jump in fourth-quarter earnings to US$567 million (S$760 million) from US$87 million.

Analysts said the drop partly reflects concerns about the direction of Fox News following the departure of longtime news chief Roger Ailes after he was hit by a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Facebook rose 1.5 per cent after tweaking its News Feed formula to cut down on "clickbait" headlines that promise much more than they deliver.

MetLife slumped 8.7 per cent as it reported that second-quarter earnings sank to US$64 million from more than US$1 billion in the year-ago period.

The insurer announced a surprisingly large $2 billion charge due in part to higher-than-expected annuity payouts.

Other shares that swung significantly after company earnings included CF Industries, down 12.6 per cent; Jack in the Box, up 10.6 per cent; SeaWorld Entertainment, down 13.2 per cent; Square, up 9.2 per cent; and TripAdvisor, down 8.5 per cent.