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World Weighs on Stocks After Jobs Data Surge

January's jobs data gave the stock market a jolt higher early Friday. But the advance proved short-lived, as has every rally of late. Traders reassessed the economic data while a raised terror threat indicator by the government and ongoing geopolitical concerns further weighed on sentiment.

As of 2:05 p.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.9% to 7855.25, after having traded as high as 8001.08. The S&P 500 was lower by 1% to 829.84 vs. its earlier best of 845.73, and the Nasdaq Composite was down 1.2% to 1285.50, after having traded as high as 1314.50.

Drugmakers such as Merck (MRK) and Pfizer (PFE) were among drags on major averages; the Amex Pharmaceutical Index was lately down 1.7%.

However, Scios (SCIO) was lately up 19.6% after The Wall Street Journal reported Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is in talks to buy the biotech firm. JNJ was down 1.3% but the Amex Biotech Index was up 0.9%.

The Labor Department reported nonfarm payrolls rose by 143,000 in January vs. the consensus estimate of 69,000. The unemployment rate fell to 5.7% from 6.0% in December vs. expectations for a repeat last month. The overall workweek was up 0.1 hours to 34.2 hours, and average hourly earnings were unchanged.

While the headline numbers were positive and initially deemed bullish, there were some wrinkles. First, December's job loss was revised downward to 156,000 from 101,000 previously. Also, the bulk of the January job gains were in retail, where payrolls rose by 101,000, the largest gain since January 1995.

The retail sector's gain "reflects a weak holiday season which implied below-normal hiring late last year, which became a seasonally-adjusted decline, and below-average layoffs in January, which became seasonally-adjusted gains," commented Peter Kretzmer, senior economist at Banc of America Securities.

"The employment report for January showed some positive signs for labor markets and the economy, but the headline changes likely overstate the degree of underlying improvement in the month, and we do not see the report as a clear turning point in the recovery," he said.

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