Stocks gain for sixth day on strong jobs growth


NEW YORK — A burst of hiring in February pushed stocks higher on Wall Street.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 67.58 points, or 0.5 percent, to 14,397.07. The index surpassed its previous record close Tuesday and logged a sixth straight increase Friday.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 6.92 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,551.18. The Nasdaq composite advanced 12.28 points, or 0.4 percent, to 3,244.37.

U.S. employers added 236,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent in January, the Labor Department reported. That’s far better than the 156,000 job gains and unemployment rate of 7.8 percent economists surveyed by FactSet expected.

The strong job growth shows employers are confident about the economy despite higher taxes and government spending cuts.

Optimism that hiring is picking up has been one of the factors bolstering the stock market this year. Stocks have also gained on evidence the housing market is recovering and company earnings continue to growing.

Stocks have also been boosted by continuing economic stimulus from the Federal Reserve.

The U.S. central bank began buying bonds in January 2009 and is still purchasing $85 billion each month in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities. That has kept interest rates near historic lows, reducing borrowing costs and encouraging investors to move money out of conservative investments like bonds and into stocks.

Investors have also been pondering what the Fed’s next move will be. That question was in especially sharp focus Friday after the government reported the surge in hiring last month.

Andres Garcia-Amaya at JPMorgan Asset Management said the strong jobs report may heighten speculation the Fed will end its stimulus sooner than investors had anticipated, which would be a negative for the stock market.

“If the economy maintains or increases the pace of job creation … that could change the Fed’s stance,” said Garcia-Amaya. “That could mean that the Fed could take the ‘punch bowl’ away.”

The Dow has gained 9.9 percent this year and is trading at record levels, having broken its previous record of 14,164 on Tuesday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is up 8.8 percent since the start of the year, and is less than 1 percent short of its all-time high close of 1,565 set Oct. 9, 2007.

The stock market is drawing in more investors as it continues to surge.

Investors put $3.2 billion into stock mutual funds in the week ending Wednesday, data provider Lipper reported Friday. That’s the ninth straight week of net inflows to stock funds, bringing this year’s total to $59 billion.

Friday’s jobs report strengthens the case of stock market bulls, who say the economy is gaining momentum following a long and tepid recovery after the financial crisis and Great Recession, said JJ Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist at TD Ameritrade.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, rose to 2.06 percent from 2 percent Thursday. The yield is at its highest in 11 months.