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Wall Street muted on jobs growth as inflation, Delta fears weigh

by Jessica Weisman-Pitts
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By Lawrence Delevingne

BOSTON (Reuters) -A positive jobs report spurred Wall Street to push some stocks and Treasuries higher on Friday, but investor optimism was tempered by looming inflation, declining Federal Reserve stimulus and the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 943,000 jobs in July after rising 938,000 in June, the Labor Department said in its closely watched employment report on Friday, suggesting the economy maintained its strong momentum amid demand for workers in the labor-intensive services industry. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls increasing by 870,000 jobs.

“It’s a number that’s hard to say anything but positive things about,” Sameer Samana, a market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute in St. Louis, said in an interview. “Especially with the Delta variant kind of perking up, it would be much more confidence-building for the market to have a very strong economy.”

Still, stocks gains were muted. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 110.29 points, or 0.31%, to 35,174.54, the S&P 500 gained 4.76 points, or 0.11%, to 4,433.86, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 44.28 points, or 0.3%, to 14,850.84.

Peter Cardillo, an economist with Spartan Capital Securities in New York, said the jobs number was “solid” but that it indicates “inflation has more staying power and is not necessarily temporary.”

Treasury yields extended their gains, having earlier been helped by the drop in jobless claims.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury yields rose to 1.2835%, approaching a week high after their U.S. close at 1.217% on Thursday, and helping the dollar, which rose against the yen to a week high.

“The strength of hiring calls into question the rally in treasuries that took place over the last few months,” Mike Bell, a market strategist at J.P.Morgan Asset Management, said in an email. “We expect this to be the start of a sustained move higher in treasury yields over the rest of the year.”

Oil prices declined again Friday, set for their biggest weekly loss since October after falls earlier in the week triggered by rising COVID-19 cases and a surprise build in U.S. crude stockpiles. [O/R]

U.S. crude recently fell 0.56% to $68.70 per barrel and Brent was at $71.09, down 0.28% on the day.

The dollar crept higher on Friday, lifted by the positive jobs report, which bolstered the case for faster U.S. policy tightening. The dollar index was last up about 0.512, or 0.555%, in midmorning trading.

The stronger dollar and potential for higher yields hurt gold. Spot gold dropped 2.2% to $1,764.80 an ounce, and U.S. gold futures fell 2.37% to $1,762.30 an ounce. [GOL/]

Ether, the world’s second largest cryptocurrency, fell about 2% as of Friday morning, a day after a major software upgrade to its underlying ethereum blockchain, which is expected to stabilize transaction fees and reduce supply of the token.

(Reporting by Lawrence Delevingne; additional reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch, Medha Singh and Stephen Culp; editing by Jonathan Oatis)