Stocks fell Friday as worries about another jump in oil prices overshadow a solid report on the US job market. Crude oil rose more than 1 percent on Friday to trade above $103 a barrel, its highest level since September 2008. Markets have been rattled over the past two weeks as higher oil prices threaten to undermine the economic recovery. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 100 points, or 0.8 percent, to 12,154. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 12, or 0.9 percent, at 1,319. The Nasdaq composite index fell 17, or 0.6 percent, to 2,781.
The Dow Jones industrial average slumped 323 points over three days last week as the conflict in Libya deepened. Investors worry that the uprisings that have already toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt could spread to major oil-producing countries in the region and disrupt the flow of crude. Citigroup Inc. fell 2.5 percent and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. fell 1.6 percent, after Bank of America analysts trimmed their earnings forecasts for the two banks. Turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa was a central reason. The analysts expect investors to turn more cautious with their cash, which would lead to a drop in the banks’ trading revenue.
News on the US labor market was encouraging. The Labor Department reported that employers added 192,000 jobs in February, in the range of what economists expected. The unemployment rate dipped to 8.9 percent from 9 percent the previous month. The rate has dropped for three months in a row and is now at its lowest level since April 2009. “They’re tugging at each other, employment and oil,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank. “Oil is high enough that it has to be a concern. The longer it remains at this level the greater the chance that it upends our recovery.” The monthly labor market report followed other signs this week that the job market was gaining strength. The government said Thursday that the number of people applying for initial unemployment benefits fell to 368,000. That’s the lowest level since May 2008. The surprising news on unemployment claims helped lift stocks on Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average had its biggest gain since Dec. 1.