Oil rises on Syria attack, dollar shrugs off weak jobs report

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil traded to an almost one-month high on Friday after a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base while the dollar rose as investors dismissed a weak U.S. jobs report as not enough to derail a strong economy or the outlook for rising interest rates.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The toughest U.S. action in Syria’s six-year-old civil war raised geopolitical uncertainty in the Middle East and initially hit assets considered higher risk such as equities.

Gold, a safe-haven asset, climbed to a five-month high before easing and yields on risk-averse benchmark U.S. Treasuries briefly slid to four-month lows. Stocks pared losses to close higher in Europe and just below break-even on Wall Street.

For the week, crude closed up about 3 percent. U.S. crude settled 54 cents higher at $52.24 a barrel and Brent rose 35 cents to settle at $55.24.

A jobs report seen as out of step with the labor market kept alive expectations the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates twice more in 2017 as the unemployment rate last month declined to 4.5 percent from 4.7 percent in February.

“As long as we see the unemployment rate decline, we will see more rate hikes,” said Cathy Barrera, chief economic adviser at ZipRecuiter in New York.

But William Dudley, president of the New York Fed, said the U.S. central bank might avoid raising rates at the same time it begins to shrink its $4.5 trillion bond portfolio.

Dudley’s remarks helped push equities lower.

While not earth-shattering, “it’s a market where small statements are having a magnified affect because investors are worried,” said Rick Meckler, president of hedge fund LibertyView Capital Management in Jersey City, New Jersey, about Dudley.

News of the U.S. cruise missile strikes on the Syrian air base sent global stocks lower but they turned higher after U.S. officials described the attack as a one-off event that would not lead to wider escalation.

Industrials helped lift U.S. and European stocks on the prospect of higher economic growth.

U.S. corporate profits for the first quarter will be up 9 percent to 10 percent from a year earlier, and boost the market when earnings season begins next week, said Phil Orlando, chief equity strategist at Federated Investors in New York.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 98,000 jobs last month, the fewest since last May, the Labor Department said. A major snow storm that some dubbed Stella in the Northeast during the week in March of the employment survey led to a step-down in hiring.

“Our thinking is that there is nothing wrong with the labor market, other than the timing of Stella,” Orlando said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 6.85 points, or 0.03 percent, to 20,656.1. The S&P 500 fell 1.95 points, or 0.08 percent, to 2,355.54 and the Nasdaq Composite lost 1.14 points, or 0.02 percent, to 5,877.81.

In Europe, the pan-regional FTSEurofirst 300 index rose 0.18 percent to close at 1,502.68, while MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.07 percent.

Gold gave up most of its gains as the dollar rose and safe-haven demand ebbed.

Spot gold added 0.3 percent to $1,255.26 an ounce, paring gains that had pushed prices to $1,270.46, the highest since early November.

The drop in the unemployment rate suggested the labor market was still tightening and does not change the outlook for bonds.

U.S. 10- and seven-year Treasury debt yields briefly hit 2.269 percent and 2.072 percent, respectively, their lowest since Nov. 18. U.S. 30-year yields touched 2.939 percent, their lowest since mid-January.

Benchmark 10-year notes fell 11/32 in price to yield 2.3822 percent.

“There was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to the headline,” said Mark Cabana, head of U.S. short rates strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York.

Reporting by Herbert Lash; Editing by Bernadette Baum and James Dalgleish