North American stocks were up slightly in midday trading on Friday following the release of an uneventful U.S. payrolls report and a strong report on service-sector activity, but concerns remain about a renewed budget and debt-ceiling squabble in Washington.
At noon, the S&P 500 was up 4 points or 0.3 per cent, to 1,463. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average was at 13,411, up 19 points or 0.1 per cent. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was up 19 points or 0.2 per cent, to 12,489.
The U.S. Labor Department reported that employers added 155,000 positions in December, in line with expectations. The unemployment rate was unchanged, at 7.8 per cent, after November’s rate was revised up from 7.7 per cent.
The ISM non-manufacturing index rose to 56.1 in December, up from 54.7 in November and ahead of expectations.
Yet, stock markets remain subdued after an impressive two-day rally earlier in the week, when investors reacted to a budget agreement in Washington, which averted the damaging consequences of going over the so-called “fiscal cliff.” However, that agreement failed to incorporate any budget cuts or extension of the debt ceiling – setting up the next couple of months as another round of political tension and uncertainty.
Within the S&P 500, commodity producers saw the biggest gains, with materials and energy stocks rising 0.7 per cent each. Financials and industrials rose 0.6 per cent each.
Technology stocks fell 0.4 per cent, weighed down by a 1.9 per cent dip by Apple Inc.
In Canada, financials rose 0.6 per cent and energy stocks rose 0.3 per cent. However, materials fell 0.7 per cent after the price of gold fell to $1,648 (U.S.) an ounce, down nearly $27. Gold has come under stress with indications from the Federal Reserve that its stimulus programs could end sooner than expected.
In Europe, the U.K.’s FTSE 100 rose 0.7 per cent and Germany’s DAX index rose 0.3 per cent.