Wall Street was slightly on the backfoot at the start of the session as startled traders tried to reconcile a surprisingly low reading on US non-farm payrolls for March with a large and a unexpected drop in the unemployment rate.
Acting as a backdrop, the importance of geopolitics has come into sharp relief after the US military struck a Syrian airfield near Homs and as investors waited on reports out of Friday's meetings between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US president Donald Trump.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is lower by 0.03% to 20,665.91, with the S&P 500
down 0.04% at 2,356.44 and the Nasdaq Composite slipping 0.12% to 5,871.76.
Stock in Raytheon, the maker of the Tomahawk cruise missiles launched in the Syrian strike were up by 0.74%, alongside gains of 1.05% for Lockheed Martin and 1.72% for shares
of Level 3 Technologies.
In parallel, the yield on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury note is off by three basis points at 2.32%, but above the level it was at just before the release of today's jobs data.
US non-farm payrolls rose by just 98,000 in March, far below the 174,000 print which economists had expected, but the unemployment rate fell by two tenths of a percentage point to 4.5% (consensus: 4.7%), leaving economists and analysts split on the implications for the US central bank's policy.
"Monetary policy implications of this report should be limited. Nobody anticipates a rate hike for the next meeting, early May, anyway. And ahead of the subsequent meetings, the Fed will get further evidence about the state of the labor market, which should corroborate our view that the true underlying dynamic lies somewhere between the too strong numbers in January and February, and the too weak number in March. We thus continue to expect two further rate hikes in the remainder of this year," said Dr. Harm Bandholz, chief US economist at UniCredit Research.
Meanwhile, oil prices
are edging slightly higher on the back of the strikes, amid concerns about disruptions to supplies from the region, but well off their best levels of the day, with West Texas Intermediate up 0.31% to $51.86 a barrel and Brent crude 0.15% higher at $54.97.
Gold futures on COMEX are wanted, rising 1.14% to trade at $1,267.50/oz, a five-month high. The yen on the other hand has handed back early gains with the greenback just 0.1% lower to 110.70.
US President Donald Trump said he ordered the missile strikes following the deadly chemical attack that took place earlier in the week.
America's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated late on Thursday that there was "no doubt" Syrian President Bashar Assad was behind the poison gas attack that killed dozens of Syrian civilians.
IG analyst Joshua Mahony says that although the US launched its attack on Assad's regime, from a geopolitical standpoint, this was essentially an attack on Russian interests.
"This came at a crucial time, given the fact that Trump is in the middle of a two-day meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, while the US secretary of state Rex Tillerson is due to visit Moscow tomorrow. For the Chinese, last night's attacks highlight the fact that Trump is willing to act if his opponents push it too far; a clear nod to the escalations of tension in North Korea. Tillerson's meeting in Moscow has just become increasingly difficult to predict, with a strong chance that this may not go ahead at all.
On the corporate front, shares in CarMax Inc. rose after the used car retailer reported better-than-expected earnings and sales for the fourth quarter late on Thursday.
Constellation Brands were up 0.94% despite reporting solid fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday.
From a sector stand-point, the worst performing industrial groups were: Industrial suppliers (-1.59%), Electronic office equipment (-1.18%) and Recreational Services (-1.02%).