U.S. stocks were little changed, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index trading near at an all-time high, as concern the situation in Ukraine could worsen offset data showing stronger-than-forecast jobs growth.
The S&P 500 rose 0.1 percent to a record 1,877.98 at 4 p.m. in New York. The index erased losses of as much as 0.3 percent in the final hour of trading. The gauge advanced 1 percent in the past five sessions for a second weekly gain.
“ The economy is continuing to gradually improve,” Chad Morganlander, a Florham Park, New Jersey-based fund manager at Stifel Nicolaus & Co., which oversees about $150 billion of assets, said in a telephone interview. “There’s definitely concern about the Russia-Ukraine thunderstorm rolling back into the market. We’ve had very good market performance over the last several weeks in spite of great uncertainty on the geopolitical front.”
Russia said Ukraine must pay off almost $2 billion its cash-strapped neighbor owes it for natural gas by today and signaled it may cut supplies, ratcheting up the pressure as the two nations scrap over the future of the Black Sea Crimea region.
The country, a key transit nation for east-west energy supplies, is struggling to keep hold of Crimea after pro-Russian forces seized control of the peninsula. The West has urged Russia to pull back, and began yesterday to impose sanctions.
The S&P 500 added 1 percent this week. The gauge recorded its biggest drop in a month on March 3 as the Ukraine situation flared. Signs of easing tensions the next day gave the index its best advance this year. It rose 0.2 percent yesterday after unemployment claims fell to a three-month low.
Today’s jobs report showed the 175,000 gain in employment last month followed a revised 129,000 increase in January that was bigger than initially estimated. The median forecast of economists in a Bloomberg survey called for a 149,000 advance in February. The jobless rate unexpectedly climbed from a five-year low, rising to 6.7 percent from 6.6 percent.
The data “is obviously good news and it suggests the economy remains on an upward track,” Alan Gayle, a senior strategist at RidgeWorth Capital Management in Richmond, Virginia, which oversees $50 billion, said in a telephone interview. “This report is going to be very supportive for those who think the growth slowdown is temporary.”
The figures showed 601,000 Americans weren’t at work because of weather during the survey week, the most since 2010, the report indicated.
“Everybody was expecting this to come in much softer than it did,” Darrell Cronk, the New York-based regional chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank, which manages $170 billion, said by phone. “I think this number will help solidify the continued Fed exit and that the economy remains on track for a recovery. The more we can add jobs and get the economy to organically grow through traditional measures is a wonderful thing.”
The Federal Reserve is trying to determine how much of the recent economic cooling has been due to weather, which means the outlook for monetary policy may not become clearer until March data becomes available. Reports including housing and hiring missed economists’ forecasts in December and January amid severe winter weather.
Data this week showed manufacturing expanded at a faster pace than projected in February, while consumer spending rose in January at a better rate than forecast.
Fed Bank of New York President William C. Dudley today said he sees a “reasonably favorable” outlook for the U.S. economy, even as elevated joblessness and too-low inflation warrant a high level of stimulus for a “considerable time.”