Market Opens Higher Despite Jobs Data

Stocks in New York turned higher on Friday's open as traders looked past steep increases in unemployment numbers for February.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up by 48 points at 6642, with the S&P 500 higher by 4 points at 687. The Nasdaq was rising by 6 points to 1306.

In arguably the most-anticipated data of the week, The Labor Department said early Friday that non-farm payrolls continued to fall sharply, decreasing by 651,000, basically in line with expectations. Notably, the government also revised the figure for January, to 655,000 from the initial estimate of 589,000.

The number of unemployed people rose by 5 million people over the last year to 12.5 million through February. The unemployment rate rose more than expected, to 8.1% in February from 7.6% in January. It's now at its highest rate since 1983.

The S&P fell to its lowest level since September 1996, and the Nasdaq fell below its Nov. 20 closing low.

Financials took a beating after Moody's Investors Service said it might downgrade its ratings of Wells Fargo & Co. ( WFC) and Bank of America ( BAC) out of caution for potential loan losses on Thursday.

Early Friday, Wells Fargo ( WFC) slashed its dividend to 5 cents a share from 34 cents. The bank says the move will allow it to retain an additional $5 billion in common equity in 2009.

Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley ( MS) is seeking to lure more high-net-worth clients by offering Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insurance on deposits ranging from $1 million to $100 million, Dow Jones Newswires reports.

In commodities, oil was rising 92 cents to $44.53 a barrel, while gold rose $14.20 to 942.

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