Stocks end mixed following lackluster employment report

NEW YORK - Wall Street ended a strong week narrowly mixed Friday after the market absorbed a weaker-than-expected employment report that curbed investors' bullish sentiment following three days of straight gains.

The January jobs report, which showed the country's unemployment rate at a four-month high of 4.6 percent, came as a surprise on Wall Street. A reading of 4.5 percent had been expected. The Labor Department report signaled employers were more cautious than expected in adding jobs in the new year. The economy added 111,000 jobs last month, below the 150,000 that had been expected.

Investors also received word from the Commerce Department that U.S. factory orders showed their biggest gain in nine months in December, rising 2.4 percent. Also, the final Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment reading for January rose to 96.9 from 91.7 in December, its highest level in two years, but fell short of a preliminary reading of 98.

''They're by no means terrible numbers here,'' said Andy Richman, fixed-income strategist at SunTrust Bank's personal asset management arm. He contends the readings signal the Federal Reserve's strategy of standing pat on interest rates is working. ''This validates their wait-and-hold approach is starting to pay off.''

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 20.19, or 0.16 percent, to 12,653.49. Shortly after the opening bell the Dow logged a fresh trading high of 12,683.93 before moving lower; the previous high, set Thursday, was 12,682.57.

Broader stock indicators were higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 2.45, or 0.17 percent, to 1,448.39, its highest level in more than six years, and the Nasdaq composite index advanced 7.50, or 0.30 percent, to 2,475.88.

For the week, the Dow was up 1.33 percent, while the Nasdaq gained 1.66 percent and the S&P rose 1.84 percent.

Bonds were little changed following the economic data, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note flat at 4.83 percent from late Thursday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Light, sweet crude settled up $1.72 at $59.02 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude prices have risen this week on political concerns in the Middle East, and cold weather in the Northeastern U.S.