By Donna Kardos Yesalavich
NEW YORK (Dow Jones) -- U.S. stocks erased early gains Friday as the tech sector lagged, while data showed the U.S. jobless rate edged down to 9.5% in June, but the economy shed jobs for the first time this year.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) rose 4.5 points to 9,767. Verizon (VZ) led the measure's gains with a 2.5% jump. Alcoa (AA) was also strong, up 0.9%, and J.P. Morgan Chase(JPM) added 0.8%.
Keeping the gains in check, Intel fell 0.5%, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) slipped 0.4% and Merck (MRK) dropped 0.3%.
The Nasdaq Composite (RIXF) fell 1% to 2,100. The Standard & Poor's 500 (SPX) advanced 1.1% to 1,028, led by its health-care and materials sectors.
Boosting the health-care sector, drug-making giant Eli Lilly (LLY) said it will buy closely held Alnara Pharmaceuticals Inc., a company focused on developing treatments for metabolic diseases.
The climb in materials stocks came as the Australian government's planned new mining tax included major concessions to the mining industry, including a reduction in the headline rate of tax to 30% from 40%. The government also excluded all commodities from the tax apart from iron ore and coal. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (FCX) jumped 2.1%, Titanium Metals (TIE) advanced 1.9% and Owens-Illinois (OI) climbed 0.9%.
Friday morning, the government's monthly jobs data sent mixed messages on the labor market. The jobless rate edged down to 9.5% in June from 9.7% the previous month, better than the increase to 9.8% economists were expected. However, nonfarm payrolls fell by 125,000 last month, with only 83,000 private-sector jobs added. Economists were expecting payrolls to drop by a more modest 110,000 in June.
"It was not good, but it wasn't as bad as people may have feared," said Ed Crotty, chief investment officer at Davidson Investment Advisors. He noted that after a report on private-sector jobs from Automatic Data Processing disappointed earlier in the week, "that really fanned a lot of fears that we could see a bad number."
Still, Crotty said the 83,000 private-sector jobs added last month is not sufficient to keep up with population growth. He was also concerned with a drop in the number of hours worked as well as a decline in average hourly earnings.
"That shows job momentum is definitely in the negative direction," he said. Regarding the decline in the unemployment rate, Crotty said it appeared to be skewed because in June, the civilian labor force participation rate fell by 0.3 percentage point to 64.7%.
"In the near term a lot of times people fall out of the equation and can create an unemployment rate that looks positive though we're not seeing a lot of job creation," Crotty said.
The dollar strengthened against the yen but was weaker against the euro, which was recently trading around $1.2603, up from $1.2515 late Thursday in New York. The U.S. Dollar Index, which tracks the U.S. currency against a basket of six others, fell 0.6%. Treasurys fell, pushing the yield on the 10-year note up to 2.97%.
Crude-oil futures rose above $73 a barrel. Gold futures also climbed.
Overseas, Germany's lower house of Parliament on Friday approved a watered-down bill banning "naked" short-selling of all stocks and euro currency derivatives not intended for hedging against currency risks. The bill extends Germany's previous move to ban naked short-selling of shares in 10 leading German financial institutions and credit default swaps on euro-zone government bonds from May 19.
Still to come, data on factory orders will be released at 10 a.m. EDT.