Wall Street up on jobs data, brushes off Greek default

NEW YORK Fri Mar 9, 2012 4:35pm EST

1 of 6. Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange March 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks advanced on Friday as investors brushed off the technical default by Greece and focused instead on another strong monthly jobs report.

Trading was choppy in late afternoon trade after the International Swaps and Derivatives Association said Greece has triggered an insurance payment on credit default contracts.

Investors took the Greek news largely in stride because the event was widely expected. Still, it is a declaration of default following the biggest sovereign debt-restructuring deal in history, and the specter of trouble in other euro-zone countries remains.

"I'm surprised and a bit disturbed that the stock market is this calm to what is essentially the Greek default," said Joe Saluzzi, co-manager of trading at Themis Trading in Chatham, New Jersey.

"Instead of thinking about what will happen next, what happens to other countries (in the euro zone), the market is thinking, 'The Fed has my back with cheap money,' and is brushing off the news."

Wall Street posted its first major loss of the year earlier this week on fears of a disorderly default in Greece. But the market rebounded on news that the U.S. Federal Reserve is considering a new type of Treasury and mortgage bond-buying. Financials, in particular, got a lift from the Fed news.

For the week, the S&P 500 edged up 0.1 percent. The index has advanced for five of the past six weeks.

Bank shares, among the most sensitive to growth expectations and the euro-zone crisis, led the gains. The KBW bank index .BKX rose 1 percent. Citigroup (C.N) added 0.6 percent to $34.20. JPMorgan Chase (JPM.N) gained 1.5 percent to $41.03.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI advanced 14.08 points, or 0.11 percent, to 12,922.02 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX rose 4.96 points, or 0.36 percent, to 1,370.87. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC gained 17.92 points, or 0.60 percent, to close at 2,988.34.

Exactly three years ago, the S&P 500 posted a 12-year closing low at 676.53 during the height of the financial crisis. The index has more than doubled since then, although it stalled last year before resuming a rally in 2012.

U.S. employers added 227,000 jobs to their payrolls in February, government data showed, while the unemployment rate held at a three-year low of 8.3 percent even as people flooded back into the labor force to hunt for jobs.

"The jobs numbers have helped the market keep the forward momentum going. It is definitely a confidence builder," said Jim Russell, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Cincinnati.

Shares of Monster Worldwide Inc (MWW.N), an online employment agency whose stock is sensitive to changes in the employment outlook, shot up 5.8 percent to $9.11.

More than 80 percent of the issues in the S&P consumer discretionary sector index .GSPD rose, underscoring investors' bets that the jobs recovery will boost consumer spending, a pillar of the U.S. economy. The sector's index rose 0.5 percent.

Strength in homebuilders' shares, seen earlier in the week, continued, with the Dow Jones U.S. home construction index .DJUSHB up 3.3 percent. Credit Suisse raised its recommendation on three big U.S. home builders - DR Horton (DHI.N), Lennar (LEN.N) and Toll Brothers (TOL.N) - to "outperform" from "neutral."

In the beverage sector, though, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc (GMCR.O) sank 15.7 percent to $52.59 on fears it may lose its near monopoly in the U.S. single-cup coffee market after Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) outlined plans to launch a rival coffee machine. Starbucks rose 2.9 percent to $51.84.

Volume was light, with about 6.2 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex and Nasdaq, below the daily average of 6.9 billion.

(Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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