US stocks held on to the week’s gains on Friday despite a glum jobs report, with the Dow and S&P 500 clinging to their best levels in four-and-a-half years and the NASDAQ at its highest point since November 2000.
Last month’s jobs report — with a poor 96,000 jobs created, while about 386,000 people dropped out of the job market — was yet another sign of the economy’s weakness.
However, it also signaled the likelihood of new action by the US Federal Reserve to help the economy and push down long-term interest rates, clearly something the investors liked enough not to embark on a selloff.
The markets got their main push during the holiday-shortened week on Thursday, when the European Central Bank (ECB) announced its plan to buy up bonds of troubled eurozone governments in a move to help lower their borrowing rates and, ultimately, hold the eurozone together.
That boosted the main indices about 2 percent, and they managed to retain those gains in Friday’s tentative trade.
The S&P finished the period 2.2 percent higher at 1,437.92, or 14.3 percent higher for the year, and at its best level since the end of 2007.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.65 percent to 13,306.64, also its highest since December 2007, while the NASDAQ added 2.2 percent to 3,136.42, its best level since November 2000.
Financials were big gainers for the week, rising 3.5 percent, led by Bank of America, which added 10.1 percent, and Goldman Sachs, up 10 percent.
Apple put on 2.2 percent, and Facebook rose 5.1 percent, helped by a pledge by founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg not to sell any of his shares into the weak market for another year.
Computer and chipmakers lost ground during the week due to poor outlook for the PC industry, with falls in the stocks of Dell, HP, Intel, AMD and others.
Friday’s nearly flat finish suggested that investors need a breather before moving ahead, analysts said.
Some remained optimistic despite the jobs data.
“While the August payrolls report disappointed expectations, there are still a number of positives underlying the US economy,” Robert Kavcic of BMO Capital Markets said.
“The S&P 500 pushing to the highest level since the start of 2008 is hardly an indication that serious domestic growth concerns are brewing,” he said.
“S&P 500 earnings growth did indeed slow to a single digit pace in Q2, but cash payouts to shareholders are on the rise, up nearly 14 percent year on year to the highest level on record — and balance sheets can support more growth if businesses so choose.”
Markets will take their biggest cue from Wednesday and Thursday’s meeting of the Fed’s policy board, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).
After Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s strong call for more action to fight joblessness on Friday last week, nearly all analysts say the FOMC will make some effort to further press down long-term interest rates.
That could be either by refining its announced policy stance, or going so far as to embark on a third round of quantitative easing (QE3), bond-buying program, analysts said.
“We expect the Fed to extend its ‘low-rates’ guidance through mid-2015, and to launch a QE3 program concentrated on mortgage-backed securities worth $500-600 billion,” economists at IHS Global Insight said.
“We don’t think the measures on the table for next week’s meeting will be very effective in boosting growth, but for the Fed it’s a question of trying to do what it can,” they said.