Wall St. Retreats On Slowing Jobs Growth, U.S.-China Friction

(Reuters) - The S&P 500 retreated from a near six-month high in choppy trading on Friday with data showing a sharp slowdown in U.S. employment growth, while U.S.-China tensions escalated with President Donald Trump's move to ban WeChat and TikTok.

With the benchmark index now about 1% below its record high, gains were led by utilities (SPLRCU), communication services (SPLRCL) and real estate <.SPLRCR> stocks. Energy (SPNY) was among the biggest decliners in morning trading.

The Labor Department's closely watched report showed nonfarm payrolls increased 1.76 million in July. While that was better than the 1.6 million jobs economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast, it was much lower than the record 4.8 million in June.

"Expectations of a negative jobs print had been hanging over investors for the past month, preventing them from fully enjoying the run of strong economic data," said Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors in London.

"In fact, it was better than expected and means a record high level for the S&P 500 index is potentially in grasp."

Underlining the disconnect between U.S. economic health and a stimulus-led rally on Wall Street, the Nasdaq closed Thursday above 11,000 for the first time as traders counted on Congress to agree on another coronavirus relief package.

However, Democrats and Trump's top aides have so far failed to make substantial progress, with differences partly centered around continuing an extra $600-per-week in unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, Trump late on Thursday unveiled sweeping bans on U.S. transactions with the Chinese owners of messaging app WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok. In response, China said the companies complied with U.S. laws and warned Washington would have to "bear the consequences" of its action.

New York-listed Tencent Music Entertainment Group (N:TME), which was spun off from WeChat-owner Tencent Holdings Ltd (HK:0700) in 2018, fell 3.3%, while Facebook Inc (O:FB) jumped 3.8%.

Microsoft Corp (O:MSFT), which is seeking to buy TikTok's U.S. operations, was down-0.9%. U.S.-listed Chinese stocks such as Baidu Inc (O:BIDU), Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (N:BABA) and JD.com Inc (O:JD) fell between 1.9% and 4.1%.

At 11:34 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) was down 75.11 points, or 0.27%, at 27,311.87, the S&P 500 (SPX) was down 2.23 points, or 0.07%, at 3,346.93, and the Nasdaq Composite (IXIC) was down 19.23 points, or 0.17%, at 11,088.84.

With the second-quarter corporate earnings season largely over, about 82% of S&P 500 companies that have reported so far have beaten dramatically lowered estimates, with earnings on average coming in 22.5% above expectations, the highest on record.

T-Mobile US Inc (O:TMUS) jumped 8.1% as it added more-than-expected monthly phone subscribers and said it had overtaken rival AT&T Inc (N:T) as the second-largest U.S. wireless provider. AT&T dipped 0.6%.

Advancing issues nearly matched decliners on the NYSE and outnumbered decliners 1.27-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 28 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 97 new highs and six new lows.

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