By Ken Sweet, AP
NEW YORK — The stock market moved sharply lower Friday as investors worked through a mediocre jobs report and monitored the simmering tensions over Syria.
After opening slightly higher Friday, stocks quickly lost momentum and turned negative after the first ten minutes of trading.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 120 points, or 0.8 percent, to 14,819 as of 10:10 a.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down eight points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,646 and the Nasdaq composite fell 25 points, or 0.7 percent, to 3,623.
Traders moved money back into U.S. government bonds on speculation that the weak employment numbers would encourage the Federal Reserve to keep buying bonds. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.89 percent from 3 percent the day before, a big move for the bond market.
Wall Street was also being rattled by the continuing standoff between the U.S. and Syria. Three Russian naval ships were sailing toward Syria in the eastern Mediterranean on Friday and a fourth was on its way, the Interfax news agency reported, a sign that Russia may assist Syria in case the U.S. does strike.
The price of crude oil rose as traders anticipated that any escalation of tensions in the Middle East might disrupt the flow of oil from the region. Oil rose $1.20 to $109.57 a barrel. Gold rose $14 to $1,387 an ounce as investors parked money in safe-play assets.
In Washington, the Labor Department reported that U.S. employers added 169,000 jobs last month, fewer than the 177,000 economists had forecast. It also revised downward the number of jobs added in July to 104,000, from its previous estimate of 162,000.
The government also said the unemployment rate fell to 7.3 percent from 7.4 percent, but the decline mainly reflects the fact that more Americans gave up on looking for work, which means they are no longer counted as unemployed. The proportion of Americans working or looking for work fell to its lowest level in 35 years.
“This was a horrible set of jobs figures, starting with large revision to last month’s number,” said Tom di Galoma, head of fixed-income rates sales at ED&F Man Capital.
Friday’s jobs survey is the last major piece of economic data the Federal Reserve will have to consider before the central bank’s September policy meeting, where it will decide the fate of its large bond-buying program.
The Fed has been buying $85 billion in Treasuries and other bonds since last September in an effort to keep interest rates low and encourage hiring and economic growth. It was widely believed that the Fed would start pulling back on the purchases this month, barring a disappointing jobs report.
In corporate news, Mattress Firm sank after the company reported second-quarter earnings of 43 cents a share, far below the 51 cents analysts expected, according to FactSet. Mattress Firm plunged $5.92, or 14 percent, to $35.91.
VeriFone Systems reported a third quarter loss on Thursday, but the results still came in above Wall Street expectations. The electronic payment terminal maker surged up $2.14, or 10 percent, to $22.86.