Belfast Telegraph

Stocks close in sight of record after positive job news

US stocks surged on Friday, finishing just short of record highs, as investors responded enthusiastically to a strong June job market report.

The buying accelerated throughout the day after the Labour Department said US employers added 287,000 jobs last month.

That was far more than analysts expected, and after weak reports from April and May, it suggests the economy and job market have not run out of steam.

"It was a strong report and it put to bed worries that we were seeing the job market sputter," said Kate Warne, investment strategist for Edward Jones.

Mining and materials companies, which would stand to benefit more than other industries from an accelerating economy, took the biggest gains. Machinery makers also jumped. Only eight stocks on the Standard & Poor's 500 finished lower.

The Dow Jones industrial average surged 250.86 points, or 1.4%, to 18,146.74. The S&P 500 rose 32 points, or 1.5%, to 2,129.90. The Nasdaq composite advanced 79.95 points, or 1.6%, to 4,956.76.

The government said the unemployment rate rose slightly as more people looked for jobs. There was also evidence wages were rising faster. The April and May reports worried investors, in part because they came after the economy grew just 1.1% over the first three months of 2016.

The US economy has been growing for more than six years and investors are wary that that streak could end.

Among material and industrial companies, paint and coatings maker PPG Industries added 3.29 dollars, or 3.2%, to 106.32 dollars and aluminium producer Alcoa picked up 48 cents, or 5.2%, to 9.82 dollars. Machinery maker Caterpillar climbed 2.32 dollars, or 3.1%, to 77.37 dollars and aerospace company Boeing gained 2.92 dollars, or 2.3%, to 130.09 dollars.

Retailer Gap climbed after it said sales at stores open at least a year grew in June as Old Navy results improved. Sales at those stores are considered an important measure of retailers' results, and Thomson Reuters said it was the first improvement in that gauge for Gap in more than a year. Analysts expected another decline this month.

Gap stock rose 1.07 dollars, or 4.9%, to 22.70 dollars. The stock is down 8% this year.

Videoconferencing equipment maker Polycom said it will be taken private by Siris Capital. It accepted an offer from Siris worth 12.50 dollars per share, or 1.7 billion dollars. Polycom accepted an offer from Mitel Networks in April. Polycom stock gained 1.38 dollars, or 12.7%, to 12.25 dollars. Mitel, which will get a 60 million US dollars payment from Polycom, climbed 1.19 dollars, or 19.8%, to 7.21 dollars.

The S&P 500 is less than a point away from the record high it set in May 2015. The Dow, too, is close to a record. They reached those peaks before investors got very worried about the slowdown in China's economy, before the Federal Reserve started raising interest rates for the first time in almost nine years, and before anyone thought Britain might really vote to leave the European Union.

While all of those concerns have hurt stocks, they have recovered. But it's been a very careful, uneasy rally. The stocks that have done the best in the last year are phone companies and utilities, which pay big dividends and are considered safe. U.S. bond yields have set all-time lows in the last few days. Gold is at its highest price in two years.

US economic growth has been steady but uninspiring and corporate profits and revenues are in a slump. But the alternatives do not look any better. China has been shaky. The economies of Japan and Europe are weak, and the yields on some European bonds are negative as nations try to boost their economic growth. That means investors have to pay to own those bonds. So even if US stocks are not setting the world alight, they have been good enough.

"I don't think investors are nearly as excited as they would typically be in an environment where stocks are close to record highs," said Ms Warne.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.36% from 1.39%. That's far below the 2.29% level it began the year at. When demand for bonds is high, their prices rise and yields fall. That has the effect of sending interest rates on many kinds of loans including mortgages lower, since those rates are tied to bond yields.

Drug developer Juno Therapeutics said it halted a mid-stage study on a potential leukaemia treatment following the deaths of two patients. The study involved the company's most advanced experimental drug, and Juno said the deaths of the patients came after an additional chemotherapy drug was added to their treatment. The stock sank 13.01 dollars, or 31.9%, to 27.81 dollars.

Energy prices were slightly higher. Benchmark US crude added 27 cents to 45.41 dollars a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a standard for international oil prices, picked up 36 cents to 46.76 a barrel in London.

Gold lost 3.70 dollars to 1,358.40 dollars an ounce. Silver picked up 26 cents, or 1.3%, to 20.10 dollars an ounce. Copper held steady at 2.12 dollars a pound.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline rose one cent to 1.37 dollars a gallon. Heating oil remained at 1.41 dollars a gallon. Natural gas added two cents to 2.80 dollars per 1,000 cubic feet.

Germany's Dax jumped 2.2% and the CAC-40 in France was 1.8% higher. In Britain, the FTSE 100 added 0.9%. Japan's Nikkei 225 closed 1.1% down. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index shed 0.7% and South Korea's Kospi lost 0.6%.

The dollar fell to 100.46 yen from 100.76 yen. The euro slipped to 1.1049 from 1.1055 dollars. The British pound rose to 1.2952 dollars from 1.2896 dollars.