By STEVE ROTHWELL
NEW YORK — A surge in dividend-rich utility stocks helped push the Standard Poor’s 500 index (^GPSC) to a record Friday.
Investors bought up the stocks after the government reported that U.S. employers added fewer jobs than forecast for August. That boosted demand for bonds and pushed down their yields. In turn, stocks with big dividends became more attractive to investors seeking income-paying securities.
The stock market also got a lift from a cease-fire agreement between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists, aimed at bringing an end to nearly five months of fighting. Stocks had slumped at the beginning of August amid worries that the conflict in Ukraine would spiral out of control and inflame tensions between Russia and the West.
“That development is a positive,” said Jerry Braakman, chief investment officer of First American Trust. “Further sanctions on Russia, and excluding them from the Western economies, sets global trade back.”
The SP 500 index rose 10.06 points to 2,007.7, surpassing its previous record close of 2,003.37, set Aug. 29. The index has now logged 33 all-time highs this year.
Stocks had started the day lower after a disappointing jobs report.
U.S. employers added 142,000 jobs in August, snapping a six-month streak of hiring above 200,000 and posting the smallest gain in eight months, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent from 6.2 percent, falling because more people without jobs stopped looking for one and were no longer counted as unemployed. Economists had expected employers to add 220,000 jobs.
Many analysts reasoned that, while the report was disappointing, the slowdown in the pace of hiring was not strong enough to suggest that the overall trend had changed. Friday’s news was also at odds with reports earlier this week that showed the economy is still strengthening. Construction and the service industry, for example, were strong.
“I would avoid reading too much into one number,” said Russ Koesterich, chief investment strategist at BlackRock. “This is an outlier…. the weight of evidence suggests that the U.S. is going to have a decent third quarter and will be relatively strong going into the end of the year.”
Bond prices initially rose on the disappointing hiring news. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves in the opposite direction of price, dropped as low as 2.41 percent, before gradually giving up most of its gains throughout the day and edging up to 2.46 percent from 2.45 percent on Thursday. The yield has slumped from 3 percent at the start of this year.
The early drop in bond yields boosted demand for utility stocks. The lower bond yields are, the more attractive dividend-rich utilities appear to investors who are looking for an income. The slump in bond yields this year has helped make the utilities sector the second-best performer in the SP 500 index, with a gain of 14 percent.
Among individual stocks making big moves Friday, Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX) was the biggest gainer in the SP 500 index.
The drugmaker’s stock rose $3.49, or 3.8 percent, to $95.04 after analysts at Goldman Sachs raised their rating on the stock to “buy” from “neutral,” citing the outlook for the company’s cystic fibrosis treatment.
Michael Kors (KORS) was the biggest decliner in the index.
The clothing retailer fell $3.58, or 4.5 percent, to $76.39 after Sportswear Holdings, one of its principal founding stockholders, said it was selling its remaining shares in the luxury retailer. Sportswear Holdings had a 5.7 percent stake in the company.
In currency trading, the euro rebounded from a slump on Thursday, when the European Central Bank surprised markets by cutting interest rates and announcing a new stimulus program. Europe’s single currency rose 0.1 percent to $1.2952 Friday. The dollar was at 105.07 yen after rising as high as 105.71 yen, the highest level since October 2008.
The price of oil fell further after slumping Thursday, when a report showed that U.S. crude supplies fell less than expected. Benchmark crude oil closed down $1.16, or 1.2 percent, to $93.29 a barrel in New York after falling $1.09 on Thursday. In other energy trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange wholesale gasoline dropped 1.7 cents to $2.583 a gallon, heating oil lost 1.7 cents to $2.819 a gallon and natural gas fell 2.6 cents to $3.793 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Most metals rose. Gold closed up 80 cents, or 0.1 percent, at $1,267.30 an ounce. Silver edged up 1.8 cents, or 0.1 percent, to $19.16 an ounce. Copper prices also gained, climbing to 1.8 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $3.17 per pound.
What to Watch Monday:
- The Federal Reserve releases consumer credit data for July at 3 p.m. Eastern time.
These major companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial statements:
Most shoppers have already purchased their new patio furniture, decor and grills for the year. In fact, many are already thinking about putting them into storage, which is why all outdoor furniture, umbrellas, lighting, grilling supplies and similar merchandise is being put on clearance. “Look for markdowns in the 60 percent to 75 percent range as retailers clear room for next season’s merchandise,” says Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey.com. While discounts may deepen as the month goes on, there will be less to choose from, so plan accordingly.
1. Patio furniture and grills