NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks held steady near their record levels in afternoon trading on Friday after a report showed that hiring was a touch softer than expected last month.
Employers added 145,000 jobs in December, short of the 160,000 that economists had forecast. But the number was solid enough to cement Wall Street’s view that the job market is holding up and can continue allowing households to spend, preserving the largest part of the economy.
The report also showed that wage growth remains subdued, which gives the Federal Reserve leeway to keep interest rates low. Low rates help goose economic activity and support stock prices.
“I don’t think today’s report was a big needle mover for the market or for Fed policy,” said Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab. “The economic environment looks fine in 2020, but the risk is that sentiment may have gotten overly complacent, and we need earnings to step up.”
After last year, where the S&P 500 returned 31.5% even though profits likely fell for big companies, Sonders said investors will need to see profit growth in 2020 to help justify the records that stock prices are setting. Earnings reports will begin in earnest next week, with several big banks on the schedule to tell investors how much profit they made in the last three months of 2019.
KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 index was virtually unchanged as of 2:10 p.m. Eastern time, after bouncing between modest gains and losses thorugh the day. It set a record Thursday and is on pace to bounce back from the prior week’s loss to turn in its twelfth week of gains in the last 14.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 65 points, or 0.2%, to 28,892. The Nasdaq was close to flat.
INFLATION WATCH: The government’s report on jobs is the most anticipated economic data each month because it shows not only how many people got hired but also how much income workers are making.
Average hourly earnings were 2.9% higher in December than a year earlier, the first time that number has dropped below 3% since the summer of 2018.
Stubbornly low wage growth isn’t good for workers, but it removes a threat of higher inflation that could erode corporate profits and push the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.
YIELDS: The 10-year Treasury yield fell to 1.82% from 1.85% late Thursday. The two-year Treasury yield held steady at 1.56%
WRONG ORDER: Grubhub fell 4.7 % after the denying reports that it was looking for a buyer. It’s the second-largest player in the increasingly competitive food-delivery business behind DoorDash.
MAX WOES: Boeing fell 1. 4 % after internal messages showed employees at the aircraft maker ridiculed those responsible for designing and overseeing the plane and apparently tried to hide problems from regulators. The plane has been grounded since March after two crashes killed 346 people.
FREE FALL: Six Flags Entertainment plunged 18.3% after the theme park operator warned investors that it may have to cancel development plans in China. It also said poor attendance in the U.S. will hurt revenue in the fourth quarter. Its partner in China has defaulted on payments, leaving the fate of six projects there in doubt. Weak season pass and membership sales in the U.S. could shave up to $10 million off revenue.
EARNINGS AHEAD: Investors will have a chance to refocus on corporate earnings next week when several large banks and airlines report their financial results. JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup will all report earnings on Tuesday, along with Delta Air Lines.
Bank of America and Goldman Sachs will report results on Wednesday, along with insurer UnitedHealth Group. Railroad operator CSX will report results on Thursday.