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Stocks Close Higher Despite Job Losses

"The December jobs report does nothing to resolve uncertainty about the pace of economic recovery and will provide both bulls and bears with justification of their short-term positions," said PNC chief economist Stuart Hoffman.

Economists' projections ran a gamut spanning job loss to job growth, reaching a consensus expectation of no change in the job market last month.

"Weaker employment across construction and leisure and hospitality industries can be attributed to weather," said Burt White, chief investment officer for LPL Financial, identifying some silver linings in the report.

"Manufacturing employment was better than people thought with a decrease of 27,000 while the consensus estimate was for a decline of 35,000. At the end of the day, manufacturing is usually a good leading indicator in terms of demand, inventory restocking and capex spending. It's getting a little better and a little bit faster than anticipated."

One potentially troubling area, according to White, was temporary employment, which added 47,000 jobs in December, well ahead of the health care industry, which also saw jobs growth with payrolls rising by 22,000.

"The bulk of jobs creation was in part-time workers. That's a positive sign early on in the recovery but we've seen several months of this in a row, which could start to raise concerns."

Considering that some market observers had expected to see job creation in December, markets appeared to take the larger-than-expected decline in stride. The report supported improving trends across the labor market as jobs losses moderated significantly throughout the year. Job losses averaged 691,000 per month in the first quarter of 2009, compared with 69,000 per month in the fourth quarter.

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