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Stocks climb on Wall Street following encouraging jobs data

·3 min read

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are higher on Wall Street Friday after a report showed the nation’s job market was even stronger last month than expected.

The S&P 500 was up 0.7% in afternoon trading and on pace for its seventh straight gain, though only slightly more stocks in the benchmark index were rising than falling.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 172 points, or 0.5%, at 34,805, as of 1:05 p.m. Eastern time. The Nasdaq composite was 0.6% higher and on track to set another record like the S&P 500.

Smaller stocks in the Russell 2000 index lagged with a 0.9% drop.

Indexes climbed as soon as trading opened, after a U.S. government report said employers hired 850,000 more workers than they cut last month. It was a healthier reading than the 700,000 economists expected and an acceleration following a couple months of disappointing growth. But the job market still has a ways to go before it gets back to its strength from before the pandemic.

Economists took the report as a sign that workers will indeed come back into the labor force as more people get vaccinated and the pandemic eases. Perhaps more importantly for markets, some said the numbers likely mean the Federal Reserve can stay on the course it’s set, keeping interest rates low for a while longer to support the economy.

Treasury yields were flat to lower following the jobs report, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.44% from 1.48% late Thursday.

Low interest rates help drive up prices for all kinds of stocks, but they provide particularly powerful fuel for high-growth companies whose prices may otherwise look expensive.

That helped push several influential tech-oriented stocks higher Friday. Microsoft gained 1.8%, and Apple rose 1.6%. Because those companies are so big, their stock movements carry extra heft for indexes, and they helped make up for losses by energy producers, financial companies and others.

The Fed has said it will keep rates low to help strengthen the job market, and Friday's report suggested to several investors that growth in jobs or inflation wasn't high enough to alter its course. Average hourly wages for workers were 3.6% higher in June than a year ago, but the rise from May was slightly below economists' expectations at 0.3%.

“Maybe with wage growth and inflation having peaked, we can get past the peak fears of some sort of wage-price doom-loop,” said Brian Jacobsen, senior investment strategist, Wells Fargo Asset Management.

The Fed has been insisting that the higher inflation hitting the economy now will be only temporary, which would give it more leeway to keep its support for the economy in place. Many investors expect it to announce a pullback in its bond purchases later this year, well before expectations for the Fed to move short-term rates off their record low in 2022 or 2023.

If job growth or inflation is stronger and more persistent than expected, though, it could force the Fed to move up its timetable and raise rates more aggressively.

“The Fed wants to let the economy run as hot as possible and the let the unemployment rate get as low as possible without triggering hot inflation,” said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance. “Inflation may run hot, and that could speed up plans for tapering, but as far as raising rates I think they are still going to wait a long time.”

Virgin Galactic rose 4.2% after saying it hopes to launch a test spaceflight on July 11, with its founder Richard Branson on board.

U.S.-listed shares of Didi, a Chinese ride-hailing service, slumped 8.6% after China’s internet watchdog said it launched an investigation into the ride-hailing company to protect national security and public interest. Its shares began trading in New York on Wednesday.

Markets in both Europe and Asia were mixed.

U.S. stock markets will be closed Monday in observance of Independence Day.

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AP Business Writer Yuri Kageyama contributed.