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Split results for stocks on Syria strike and weak jobs gains

Following a somewhat disappointing jobs report and U.S. missile strikes against Syria, stocks aren’t much changed Friday as investors buy gold and high-dividend stocks and sell banks and other assets. Defense contractors are making substantial gains and the price of oil is rising.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 held steady at 2,356 at noon Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 4 points to 20,666. The Nasdaq composite fell 4 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,874. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks fell a fraction to 1,364.

The New York Stock Exchange was about evenly split between stocks that were rising and stocks that were falling.

HIRING: The government said employers added 98,000 jobs in March, about half as many as analysts had predicted. Hiring dropped off somewhat after a few months of strong job growth that was linked to warm weather that boosted hiring in construction. The monthly job gains in January and February were revised a bit lower, which meant that hiring over the last three months continued at about the same pace as 2016. The unemployment rate fell to a 10-year low of 4.5 percent.

AIRSTRIKES: Overnight, the U.S. launched a missile attack on a Syrian air force base following a chemical weapons strike blamed on the government of President Bashar Assad earlier in the week. The move was condemned by Russia and Iran. The U.S. government started shifting its policy on Syria before the close of trading Wednesday, which pushed the VIX, known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” higher.

The increased geopolitical uncertainty gave something of a boost to defense contractor stocks. Raytheon added $2.10, or 1.4 percent, to $152.85 and Lockheed Martin rose $3.31, or 1.2 percent, to $270.42. L3 Technologies climbed $2.86, or 1.8 percent, to $165.76.

THE QUOTE: Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said he is not surprised the stock market isn’t having a strong reaction to the events of the last 24 hours because they won’t really alter investors’ views of the U.S. economy.

“It was not a bad report, it was just another in a long, long, long line of not bad, not great reports,” he said of the jobs report. He said the economy probably won’t grow much faster over the next few years because the Federal Reserve plans to keep raising interest rates, which makes borrowing more expensive and keeps inflation at bay.

SEEKING SAFETY: The price of gold jumped 1.2 percent to $1,268.10 an ounce, its highest price since right after the presidential election in November. Bond prices edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.33 percent from 2.34 percent. Lower bond yields mean lower interest rates and small profits on lending, and that hurt bank stocks. Capital One fell 71 cents to $83.52 and Citigroup lost 44 cents to $59.45.

Phone companies, utilities, real estate investment trusts and household goods makers all traded higher. Wal-Mart gained $1.18, or 1.7 percent, to $72.61 and Sempra Energy rose $1.01 to $110.76.

ENERGY: The military strikes in the Middle East, which produces a large chunk of the world’s oil, sent crude prices higher. U.S. oil added 50 cents, or 1 percent, to $52.20 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, rose 38 cents to $55.26 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar dipped to 110.77 yen from 110.78 yen. The euro fell to $1.0614 from $1.0646.

OVERSEAS: In Britain, the FTSE 100 index was 0.6 percent higher and the French CAC 40 rose 0.3 percent. Germany’s DAX hardly budged. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 0.4 percent. The Kospi of South Korea lost 0.1 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was little changed.

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