Dow Ends Flat Despite Strong Data

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Stocks ended mostly flat today despite plenty of good economic news, as concerns about Syria, and hesitation ahead of tomorrow's jobs report, kept markets calm. After an early morning spike, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up just seven points, or 0.04%.

A day after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a limited military strike against Syria, President Obama traveled to the G-20 summit in Russia, where he faced pressures from foreign leaders representing Russia, China, and the EU against an attack; they argued that there was no military solution to the crisis. Oil prices crept up above $108/barrel today. In addition, investors are afraid that a strike could have consequences for the greater region.

The day's economic news was much sunnier, however, as initial unemployment claims fell last week to 323,000, down from 332,000 a week ago, and came in better than expectations of 333,000. The news seems to bode well for tomorrow's all-important federal jobs report, which will likely influence the Fed's decision on when to begin its stimulus taper.  Meanwhile, the ADP employment report showed 176,000 jobs in August, slightly below expectations of 180,000. While the ADP's figure is seen as a portent of the official Labor Dept. report, the numbers often vary greatly. Elsewhere, second-quarter productivity rose more than expected, and labor costs were flat, a strong sign for economic recovery, and the ISM Services index jumped to 58.6, well ahead of estimates of 54.5. That number was a record high in its five-year history, and the employment sub-index jumped to 57.0, another promising sign.

On the big board today, Home Depot shares were off 1.6%, as 10-year treasury rates climbed eight basis points to close just shy of 3%. Rising treasury yields bring up mortgage rates along with it; this will likely put pressure on the housing market. Though the trend is a negative for the home-improvement retailer over the long term, it's a possible bonus for Home Depot in the short term, as it could lead to a rush to purchase homes before rates go up even further, as some fear.

AT&T also took a hit today, falling 1.2%, amid rumors that it was seeking a stake in Telecom Italia. Following rival Verizon's $130-billion buyout of Vodafone's share of Verizon Wireless, Ma Bell may be looking to make a similar move; but with $38 billion in debt on Telecom Italia's balance sheet, it seems like investors may not be viewing the potential deal as a win.

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Fool contributor Jeremy Bowman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Automatic Data Processing, Home Depot, and Vodafone. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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