Dow Finishes Higher on Jobs Report

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks rallied Friday, and the Dow finished with another triple-digit gain after the government offered a much less dour assessment of the labor market than had been feared.

Investors headed into the holiday weekend feeling a bit more ebullient after the report alleviated some worst-case worries about the potential for a double-dip recession.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average picked up 128 points, or 1.2%, at 10,448. The S&P 500 gained 14 points, or 1.3%, at 1105 and the Nasdaq improved 34 points, or 1.5%, to 2234.

Each of the indices also notched gains for the week, led by a 3.8% climb on the S&P. The Nasdaq followed close behind with a 3.7% jump, and the Dow finished higher by 2.9% since last Friday's close. So far, so good for September, which is historically the worst month for equities.

A mostly flat Thursday session, highlighted by investors' hesitancy ahead of Friday's jobs report, ended with stocks locking in some gains in the last hour of trading. The Dow finished up 51 points, extending its 255-point surge from Wednesday.

But the Friday session was all about jobs, jobs, jobs. The Labor Department said employers shed 54,000 jobs from nonfarm payrolls in August. Though a loss, the drop was half of what was expected by most Wall Street economists. Consensus projections provided by Briefing.com were calling for the headline number to drop by 120,000.

As expected, the nation's unemployment rate edged up by a tenth of a percent to 9.6%, though that may be a less troubling development. More unemployed workers felt encouraged enough to begin returning to the job hunt in August, the report suggested. That means their numbers are reintroduced into the labor market bean-counting process, where before they were excluded, though that translates into a higher rate in the meantime until they find a position.

Market participants, however, were also looking past the headline numbers to focus more closely on private-sector hiring after stripping out laid-off census workers. On that front, the report said employers added 67,000 positions last month, even though expectations called for a milder pick-up of 44,000 jobs. Still, that gain in August represents only a fraction of the hiring necessary to keep up with population growth.

But in a somewhat reassuring sign, the government revised down some prior assessments, now saying nonfarm payrolls dropped by 54,000 in July from the 131,000 loss originally reported.

"It was a pretty encouraging jobs report. Not only were the August numbers better, but we also got positive revisions in June and July," said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors. "This puts employment in better stead than what we thought yesterday."

Orlando added that Friday's less bleak, though critically important, data point also reaffirmed the thesis that the economic summer soft path would lead to some firming in the fall, rather than a double-dip scenario.

But weakness still lingers. Stocks trimmed their best gains Friday morning after the Institute for Supply Management said its August index measuring service sector activity read 51.5. The measure was expected to edge lower to a reading of 53 after hitting 54.3 in July.

Though all 30 Dow components finished in positive territory Friday, McDonald's ( MCD), AT&T ( T) and Verizon ( VZ) had the weakest showings. JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) , Cisco ( CSCO) and Caterpillar ( CAT), however, led the blue-chip index higher.

In company news, BP ( BP) said costs related to the Gulf oil spill have touched $8 billion and that it has paid out some $399 million for claims. BP traded 2.3% higher at $37.40.

The recent string of M&A news carried over into Friday after Goldcorp ( GG) said it would buy Australian miner Andean Resources for $3.4 billion, topping an all-stock offer from rival Eldorado Gold ( EGO). Goldcorp lost 2.3% at $42.80, while shares for Eldorado fell off by 1.8% at $19.11.

In earnings news, Take-Two Interactive ( TTWO) was the big winner in extended-hours trading after the videogame maker -- with titles such as Red Dead Redemption and Mafia II in its stable -- blew away second-quarter earnings and sales estimates while offering an upbeat outlook. At $355 million, revenue beat the Street's view by more than 18%, while adjusted earnings landed at 28 cents a share vs. projections for a 6-cent loss. Shares surged 7.3% to close at $9.50.

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