Midday Market Update: Unemployment Rises, but Markets Hold Steady

By Jennifer Yousfi
Managing Editor

The U.S. markets battled back from an early morning dip on news that unemployment has reached 5.1%.

At midday in New York, the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average Index was down 8.72 points (-0.07%), to trade at 12,617.31. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index increased 6.72 points (0.28%), to reach 2,370.02. And the broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 3.29 points (0.24%), to hit 1,372.60.

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The basic materials sector (up 1.68%) and the energy sector (up 1.10%) posted the biggest gains, while the consumer cyclical sector (down 1.01%) and the financial sector (down 0.46%) posted the largest declines.

Payrolls declined for the third straight month as U.S. employers shed 80,000 jobs, more than forecast, the Labor Department announced today (Friday). Unemployment increased in March to 5.1% from 4.8% last month and is now at its highest level since September 2005.

"After three consecutive months of job losses, it is hard to argue that we are not in a recession," Joel Naroff, president and chief economist of Naroff Economic Advisors said today in a note to clients.

But market response to the news was subdued, as investors seem inclined to wait for first quarter earnings reports.

"The market is reacting well to what two months ago would have been disastrous news, but that may change after next week, when we get news from corporate America and what they think for the rest of the year - we may see some estimate guide-downs," Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Jefferies & Co., told MarketWatch.

In overseas markets, Japan's Nikkei Index shed 96.68 points to close at 13,293.22. Hong Kong's blue-chip Hang Seng Index had a 392.20-point increase, to close at 24,264.63 on Thursday. The Hong Kong markets are closed today (Friday) for the Ching Ming Festival, a public holiday and will reopen on Monday.

European bourses were mostly flat with the Paris-based CAC40, London's FTSE 100, Madrid's IBEX 35 and the Frankfurt-based DAX all posting only slight gains.

At midday, the dollar had lost ground against the euro (down 0.540%), the yen (down 0.529%) and the pound sterling (down 0.015%).

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