Stock markets, gas prices jittery on Syria attack, jobs report

Financial markets that were initially spooked by U.S. missile strikes against Syria Thursday night and the U.S. jobs report Friday that showed payroll gains slowed in March.

But the markets bounced back by mid-afternoon Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average trading up about 55 points to 20,718 after opening the day down 5 points.

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Investors seem to be taking recent events in stride, including the 98,000 net gain in U.S. payroll employment that was the smallest increase since May 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor reported.

The job total was significantly lower than the 180,000 net gain most analysts had forecast. Still, the jobless rate dropped last month to the lowest level in almost a decade, falling from 4.7 percent in February to 4.5 percent in March, and economists found other signs that the U.S. jobs report may not be as weak as it seemed.

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Average hourly wages, for example, were up nearly 3 percent from a year ago to $26.14, evidence of a tightening labor market that has forced competing employers to pay more to attract qualified job candidates.

“The top-line jobs number from the business survey is much lower than in recent months, with only 98,000 jobs created,” said Michael Hicks, an economics professor at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. “In all other employment measures, this is a strong jobs report as evidence from a growing labor force, big declines in involuntary part-time work, a robust composition of industrial growth and shorter duration of unemployment.”

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In Ohio, the unemployment rate rose to 5.1 percent in February — the most recent month for which figures are available — from 5 percent in January. But the state added more than 15,000 jobs for the month.

Financial and commodities markets remained jittery, however, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian air base in response to what the U.S. believes was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack on civilian rebels.

Oil prices spiked higher on concerns that an escalating conflict could spread throughout the oil-rich region, cutting off supplies. Crude oil prices hit $55 Friday morning, their highest price in a month, before sliding back closer to $54 a barrel later in the day.

Meanwhile, gold, foreign exchange and bond markets also showed increased volatility in response to the attack monthly U.S. employment figures.

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