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Stocks Close Higher but Worries About Economy Persist

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks managed to reverse an earlier selloff on Friday, but the dismal jobs report left many investors uneasy.

The disappointing job growth for September caught many investors off guard and renewed worries about the strength of the U.S. economy. It also pushed back any interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve into late this year or early next year.

"It essentially takes October off the table as a potential liftoff date, casts doubt about December and shifts the higher probability toward the first quarter of 2016," Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Private Client Reserve, told TheStreet. "For investors it prolongs uncertainty, fueling angst and concern and for equity prices it means more of the same: a generally-sideways trending market with a near-term bias."

The U.S. economy added 142,000 jobs in September, according to the Labor Department, well under estimates of 200,000. The unemployment rate held steady at 5.1%. Year-over-year growth in average hourly earnings held steady at 2.2% compared to expected growth of 2.4%.

August's payrolls figures were revised sharply lower to 136,000 from 173,000, while July was cut to 223,000 from 245,000. Investors had hoped August, a historically hard-to-read month, would see an upward revision. Over the past decade, August was the month with the lowest first estimate which was then revised in the following two months, according to a Reuters analysis. Since 2005, the government has added an average 58,000 more jobs to payrolls in August than initially reported.

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"We've moved well beyond the 'bad news is good news' scenario," said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at the Schwab Center for Financial Research on market reaction to the report.

"At this point, to use a metaphor, the patient has been in ICU for a very long time and people are ready for it to get out and walk on its own so, therefore, bad news is no longer good news," he added. "Now we need actual good news to have good news and good news is going to be strong payrolls, it's going to be strong employment numbers, it's going to be an uptick in inflation."

Even so, equity markets managed to pull higher on Friday as rallies in the energy and biotech sectors overshadowed earlier weakness associated with the disappointing jobs report. The S&P 500 added 1.4%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 1.2%, and the Nasdaq gained 1.7%. Benchmark indexes had been more than 1% lower earlier in the session.

The energy sector was among the top performers on Friday after crude oil prices closed higher. West Texas Intermediate crude rose 1.8% to $45.54 a barrel after the active oil-rig count fell by 26 to 614 over the past week, according to Baker Hughes data. 

Exxon Mobil (XOM - Get Report) , PetroChina (PTR - Get Report) , Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A - Get Report) , Chevron (CVX - Get Report) , BP (BP - Get Report) and Total (TOT) climbed, while the Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE) added 4.1%.

Biotech stocks clawed back from some of the losses suffered over the past two weeks on Friday. The industry has been under pressure since Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke out against so-called "price gouging" of specialty drugs. Pfizer (PFE) , Bristol-Myers (BMY) , Celgene (CELG) and Eli Lilly (LLY) were among the best performers, while the iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology Index ETF (IBB) rose 3.5%.

Bank of America (BAC) slid 1.2% as a class-action shareholder suit against the bank moved forward. The suit alleges Bank of America's Merrill Lynch investment banking unit shortchanged shareholders in the $1.5 billion deal to sell Zale to Signet Jewelers (SIG) . Bank of America advised Zale on the sale.

Micron Technology (MU) added more than 7% after the chipmaker reported a better-than-expected fourth quarter. Shares were higher even as first-quarter guidance came in below forecasts. The company anticipates current-quarter profit no higher than 26 cents a share compared to analysts' estimates of 38 cents.

Progress Software (PRGS) dropped 10.3% after quarterly revenue and sales forecasts missed estimates. The enterprise software company expects first-quarter sales as high as $118 million, around $3 million below expectations. No reason was given for softer sales growth.

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Chart of I:DJI
DOW 16,472.37 +200.36 1.23%
S&P 500 1,951.36 +27.54 1.43%
NASDAQ 4,707.7750 +80.6910 1.74%

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