Stocks waver as optimism about job report fades

Stocks are moving between small gains and losses Friday, giving up an early rally after the government reported that hiring picked up in July.

European leaders are calling emergency meetings and seeking to reassure markets that a large nation such as Italy or Spain won’t become the latest country in the region to need a financial backstop.

A U.S. government report that hiring improved in July sent stocks sharply higher just after the market opened. The Dow Jones industrial average jumped as many as 171 points but gave up those losses by midmorning. An hour after the opening bell, the Dow was down 7 points.

The economy added 117,000 new jobs in July, and hiring in May and June were not as bad as reported previously, the Labor Department reported. The unemployment rate inched down to 9.1 percent from 9.2 percent, partly because some unemployed workers stopped looking for work. Health care providers and manufacturers added jobs.

About twice as many jobs as that must be created every month in order to rapidly reduce the unemployment rate. That rate has topped 9 percent in every month except two since the recession officially ended in June 2009. Many economists still fear that the economy might dip back into recession.

The solid report failed to lift the spirits of traders a day after the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 513 points. It was the worst day for the Dow since 2008.

An hour after the opening bell, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 7 points, or 0.1 percent, at 11,376. The S&P 500 was down 1 point, or 0.1 percent, at 1,198. The Nasdaq composite was down 9 or 0.3 percent, at 2,547.

Overseas markets also fell. Tokyo, Hong Kong and China all closed down 4 percent. Taiwan lost 6 percent. In Europe, shares recovered some of their losses after plunging to their lowest levels in more than a year. Germany’s DAX fell 1.4 percent. Other indexes showed smaller losses.

Thursday’s sell-off was the Dow’s ninth-worst day on record in terms of points lost. It wiped out the Dow’s remaining gains for 2011. U.S. markets have entered a correction, falling 10 percentage points from their highs this spring.

Traders have focused on a torrent of bad economic news since the U.S. government struck a deal last weekend to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, averting a debt default. Manufacturing and the service sector are barely growing. The economy expanded in the first half of the year at its slowest pace since the recession ended in June 2009.

Economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimate there is a 35 percent chance of another recession within the next year. Only three of the three S&P 500’s ten industry groups are up for the year: Health care, utilities and consumer staples. Traders consider those companies to be relatively recession-proof.

The market’s decline continues two weeks of almost uninterrupted selling on Wall Street. If the Dow closes lower, it will have fallen all but one of the past 11 trading days. By one broad measure kept by Dow Jones Indexes, part of CME Group Inc., almost $1.9 trillion in market value has disappeared.

The Vix, one measure of investor fear, has doubled since July 1.

Economic fears pushed benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for September delivery down by 64 cents on Friday to $85.98 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, crude tumbled $5.30 to $86.63.

The yield on the 2-year Treasury note fell to 0.29 percent, after brushing a record low of 0.26 percent earlier Friday. Frightened investors are buying bonds, sending their prices higher and yields lower. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.48 percent after hitting a low since last year of 2.34 percent.

Shares of consumer product maker Procter & Gamble rose after the company said that its fourth-quarter revenue and income jumped on strong sales in emerging markets.

Media company Viacom Inc. said its income and revenue increased more than analysts expected in the second quarter because of strong advertising sales and fees from cable companies.

Shares of Charles Schwab Corp. lost 11 percent in premarket trading, the most in the S&P 500, amid fears that a flight by investors might hurt the financial advisor’s revenue.

Shares of Inc. surged 12 percent, the biggest gain in the S&P, after the company reported that it earned far more than expected in the second quarter as travel bookings on the website increased.