Closing Bell: Between Jobs and Syria, Markets End Volatile Day Flat

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Markets oscillated wildly Friday, but ended the day virtually unchanged, as job market data removed some uncertainty about Federal Reserve policy but worries grew about escalating tensions between the U.S. and Syria.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) ended down 14 points, or 0.1 percent, at 14,922, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) rose less than a point to 1,655 and the Nasdaq composite index (^IXIC) added 1 point to 3,660.

Stocks opened slightly higher after a weak jobs report for August bolstered hopes that the Fed may wait to cut back on its bond-buying program.

The Labor Department reported that employers added 169,000 jobs last month, fewer than the 177,000 economists had forecast. It also revised downward the number of jobs added in July to 104,000, from its previous estimate of 162,000.

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But the market soon fell as traders worried about a standoff in Syria. Russian media reported that naval ships were en route to the country, raising worries of a wider conflict and sending stocks lower.

Investors are continuing to assess the possibility of a U.S.-led strike against Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack against its civilians. Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear Friday that Russia didn't want to be sucked into a war over Syria, signaling that Moscow would maintain ongoing support to Damascus in the event of foreign military intervention.

Energy prices have been among the most volatile on the issue, with investors concerned that military action in the Middle East will weigh on oil supplies. U.S. crude oil has spiked almost 4 percent during the past two weeks and rose 2 percent Friday.

In corporate news, Smithfield Foods (SFD) fell 4 cents to $33.92 after reporting a 36 percent fall in quarterly profit, hurt by lower exports to key international markets such as Japan, China and Russia. The U.S. pork producer that has agreed to a $4.7 billion buyout by China's Shuanghui International Holdings. A person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday that the U.S. government should soon give the go-ahead to the acquisition. The deal would be the largest ever Chinese acquisition of a U.S. company.

More Stocks in the News:
  • Shares of Timken Co. (TKR) climbed 2.1 percent to $61.52 after it announced plans to split into two publicly traded companies. Late Thursday, Timken said that its board approved a plan to separate its steel business from its bearings and power transmission business through a spinoff.
  • Facebook (FB) shares rose 3 percent to $43.95 after hitting $44.56, its highest since the stock's debut on Nasdaq more than a year ago.
  • American Tower (AMT) rose 4.6 percent to $71.91 after the company agreed to buy privately held Global Tower Partners for $4.8 billion.
  • E-Trade Financial (ETFC) shares jumped 4.6 percent to $16.26 after Goldman Sachs (GS) upgraded the brokerage's stock to "buy" from "neutral" two days after the company received approval to use capital from its bank subsidiary for broader corporate purposes.
  • Mattress Firm Holding (MFRM) sank after the company reported second-quarter earnings of 43 cents a share, far below the 51 cents analysts expected, according to FactSet. Mattress Firm plunged more than 14 percent to $35.59.
  • VeriFone Systems (PAY) reported a third quarter loss Thursday, but the results still came in above Wall Street expectations. The electronic payment terminal maker jumped 10 percent to $22.81.
What to Watch Monday:
  • Homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV) reports quarterly corporate earnings.
  • The Federal Reserve releases consumer credit data for July at 3 p.m. Eastern time.
-Compiled from staff and wire reports.

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