RTTNews - Stocks moved sharply higher at the start of trading on Friday, with the major averages moving back to the upside after closing lower in the two previous sessions. The initial strength comes as traders reacted to better than expected employment data.

Before the start of trading, the Labor Department released a report showing a smaller than expected decrease in jobs in the month of July. The report also showed that the unemployment rate fell for the first time in over a year.

The report showed that non-farm payroll employment fell by 247,000 jobs in July following a revised decrease of 443,000 jobs in June. Economists had been expecting employment to fall by 325,000 jobs compared to the drop of 467,000 jobs originally reported for the previous month.

Lindsey Piegza, economic analyst for FTN Financial, said, A better than expected employment report coupled with upward revisions to the previous months reveals a discernable improving trend in labor market conditions.

The conversation now shifts from 'Will the recovery take hold?' to 'What kind of momentum will the recovery have going into 2010?' Piegza added.

The Labor Department also said that the unemployment rate unexpectedly edged down to 9.4 percent in July from 9.5 percent in June. With the decrease, the unemployment rate fell for the first time since April of 2008.

Housing stocks are helping to lead the way higher, with Beazer Homes (BZH) turning in one of the best performances after reporting a narrower than expected third quarter loss. Transportation, real estate, and electronic storage stocks are also posting notable gains.

In the past few minutes, the major averages have edged down off their highs for the young session, although they continue to post strong gains. The Dow is currently up 88.04 at 9,344.30, the Nasdaq is up 25.27 at 1,998.43 and the S&P 500 is up 10.98 at 1,008.06.

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