Stocks traded flat on Friday as investors attempted to reconcile conflicting messages on the U.S. economy from the January jobs report.
Nonfarm payrolls last month grew by just 36,000, the Labor Department said, far less than the 145,000 increase that economists had expected, but the jobless rate fell to 9.0 percent from 9.4 percent.
The number is disappointing, but when we get disappointing numbers it permits investors to see an ongoing continuation of accommodative monetary policy. said Eric Teal, chief investment officer at First Citizens Bancshares Inc in Raleigh, North Carolina.
There is a silver lining to some of the negative economic numbers.
Both the Dow and S&P 500 indexes remain near highs reached last Tuesday, levels not seen since June 2008.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> shed 4.47 points, or 0.04 percent, at 12,057.79. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> dipped 0.39 points, or 0.03 percent, at 1,306.71. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> added 1.58 points, or 0.06 percent, at 2,755.46.
Protests in Egypt continued to loom in the background as tens of thousands of Egyptians prayed in Cairo's Liberation Square for an immediate end to President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.
Health insurer Aetna Inc forecast 2011 profit well above of Wall Street's target on Friday and increased its dividend. Its shares surged 12.3 percent to $37.37.
Tyson Foods Inc advanced 5.4 percent to $18.51 after the company said quarterly earnings surged 86 percent as it sold beef and pork at much higher prices.
(Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Padraic Cassidy)