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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012.

(Seth Wenig/AP)

At midday: Stocks flat after weak consumer confidence Add to ...

North American stocks were little changed in midday trading on Friday, following an upbeat U.S. employment report but a slide in consumer confidence.

At noon, the S&P 500 was down 1 point or 0.1 per cent, to 1413 – after surrendering earlier gains. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average was up 27 points or 0.2 per cent, to 13,101. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was essentially unchanged, at 12,151.

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The U.S. Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.7 per cent in November, while employers added 146,000 jobs. The report was significantly better than economists had been expecting, with the consensus forecasting job gains of just 85,000.

However, economists were quick to note that the details weren’t all upbeat. The decline in the unemployment rate, for example, was due to workers falling out of the labour force.

Meanwhile, consumers are turning grumpy. The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index fell to 74.5 in early December, down from 82.7 in November and well below expectations.

The decline could be due to concerns about the so-called “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and spending cuts in the New Year, if Washington is unable to agree on a budget before then. Time is ticking on negotiations: House speaker John Boehner said on Friday that there is “no progress to report.”

In Europe, Germany’s central bank predicted the country’s economy will grow just 0.4 per cent in 2013, marking a sharp decline from a forecast of 1.6 per cent growth as recently as June.

The U.K.’s FTSE 100 rose 0.2 per cent and Germany’s DAX index fell 0.2 per cent.

In Canada, employers added 59,300 jobs in November and the unemployment rate fell to 7.2 per cent, from 7.4 per cent in October.

Within the S&P 500, consumer staples and financials rose 0.4 per cent each. Technology stocks fell 0.7 per cent as Apple Inc. resumed its weak stretch, falling 2.5 per cent. Telecom stocks fell 0.6 per cent.

Within Canada’s benchmark index, financials and telecom stocks fell 0.2 per cent each. However, commodity producers showed some gains: Energy stocks rose 0.1 per cent and materials rose 0.2 per cent.

Among commodities, crude oil fell to $86.15 (U.S.) a barrel, down 11 cents. Gold rose to $1,703.90 an ounce, up $2.10.

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