NEW YORK - An encouraging report on hiring barely fazed the stock market Friday, leaving indexes with the slightest of gains. For investors, good is no longer good enough.
The Labor Department said that U.S. employers added 214,000 jobs to their payrolls in October. That knocked the unemployment rate down to 5.8 percent, the lowest since July 2008. But Wall Street wanted more.
"This isn't a bad report by any means," Dan Greenhaus, chief strategist at the brokerage BTIG in New York, wrote in a note to clients. Nine months of employers hiring more than 200,000 workers is obviously an encouraging trend. But he described the 214,000 figure as "certainly disappointing."
The Standard & Poor's 500 index eked out a gain of 0.71 point to end at 2,031.92. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 19.46 points, or 0.1 percent, closing at 17,573.93. Both indexes ended the week at record highs.
The Nasdaq composite fell 5.94 points, or 0.1 percent, finishing at 4,632.53.
"The market is priced for perfection right now," said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial in Waltham, Mass. That's Wall Street slang for a market that's so high it appears investors think everything is going to keep getting better and better. "If it's not fantastic, it disappoints," he explained.
Similarly, bond traders were betting that the government's report would show even stronger hiring last month, said Tom di Galoma, head of rates and credit trading at ED&F Man Capital, a brokerage in New York. So, the actual report rattled the normally staid Treasury market, pushing the 10-year yield down to 2.30 percent from 2.39 percent late Thursday.
Comments from Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve chair, that implied the Fed was in no rush to raise interest rates helped press bond yields down.
In other trading, Humana (HUM) dropped 7 percent after turning in quarterly results that fell short of forecasts. The health insurer attributed the sharp drop in earnings to its spending on health care exchanges as well as higher costs for prescription drugs. Humana's stock fell $9.29 to $130.58.
First Solar (FSLR) also turned in third-quarter earnings and sales that missed analysts' targets. The maker of solar panels pared its forecast for 2014 revenue, and its stock sank $6.12, or 11 percent, to $50.29.
Despite some misses, the third-quarter earnings season has turned out better than predicted. Profits are on course to rise nearly 9 percent for companies in the S&P 500, according to S&P Capital IQ. Before results began to roll in, analysts had forecast a 6 percent increase.
Among other companies in the news, Sears Holdings (SHLD) soared following the retailer's announcement that it may form a real estate investment trust. The plan entails Sears selling up to 300 buildings then leasing them back. The store's stock shot up $10.14, or 31 percent, to $42.81.
In commodities trading, gold rose $27.20 to settle at $1,169.80 an ounce, while silver picked up 3 cents to $15.71 an ounce. Copper added 2 cents to $3.04 per pound.
Oil rose as an improving job market in the U.S. raised expectations for energy demand. Benchmark U.S. crude added 74 cents to close at $78.65 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for oil used by many U.S. refineries, rose 53 cents to close at $83.39 a barrel in London.
Other oil and gas contracts traded higher:
- Wholesale gasoline rose 0.5 cent to close at $2.135 a gallon.
- Heating oil rose 4.1 cents to close at $2.500 a gallon.
- Natural gas rose 0.8 cent to close at $4.412 per 1,000 cubic feet.