US stocks drifted lower Friday, as investors tried to ponder what the Federal Reserve would act following last December's nonfarm payroll report.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 55.88 points, or 0.34 percent, to 16,388.88. The S&P 500 lost 4.35 points, or 0.24 percent, to 1,833.78. The Nasdaq Composite Index shed 8.44 points, or 0.20 percent, to 4,147.75.
The market opened modestly higher, as investors considered the far worse than expected jobs report as good news, believing it may prompt the Fed to slow its pace of tapering bond buying program.
The U.S. economy added only 74,000 jobs in December, the fewest in three years, but the unemployment rate fell from 7 in November to 6.7 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday.
Despite the further decrease in the jobless rate, job growth was much weaker than economists' expectations for about 200,000 new jobs.
Christopher Low, chief economist at FTN Financial, said in a research note Friday the sluggish job growth was a "shocker" after a survey by private payrolls processor ADP on Wednesday reported a strong 238,000 rise for December.
Employment was difficult to gauge in December because companies mail pay stubs to laid-off employees this month for taxation reasons and cut employees early in the year to get out from under employee mandates in the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, Low cited ADP as saying.
However, with more insights from senior economists rolling out, investors seemed to turn to acknowledge that that the strengthening tide in the world's largest economy does not change because of a bump in the labor market, which wouldn't halt the Fed 's tapering progress, thus putting a damper on the market.
"Again we think the economy is doing ok," said Bruce Kasman, chief economist and managing director of Global Research at J.P. Morgan, commenting on the disappointing jobs report, in a conference call Friday.
He also cited some of upside risks to the U.S. economy.
Among other data, U.S. wholesale inventories advanced 0.5 percent in November, the Commerce Department said Friday.
Investors are also paying attention to speeches from two Federal Reserve officials during the day, including Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker and St. Louis Fed President James Bullard.
In corporate news, Alcoa shares slumped after the aluminum giant posted fourth-quarter earnings late Thursday that fell short of market expectations on earnings per share.