Wall Street closed narrowly mixed today as investors traded cautiously ahead of the Labor Department's Friday reading on December employment...

Share story

NEW YORK — Wall Street closed narrowly mixed today as investors traded cautiously ahead of the Labor Department’s Friday reading on December employment. Inflation jitters remained high as oil prices set a trading record above $100.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 12.76 to 13,056.72 after moving higher and lower over the course of the session.

Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, edged up 15 cents to close at $35.37 a share. Boeing, also a Dow stock, gained 36 cents to $86.98.

Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was unchanged at 1,447.17, and the Nasdaq composite index slipped 6.95 to 2,602.68.

Investors who sent stocks skidding Wednesday amid economic concerns and rising oil prices initially took some solace in findings released today by payroll company Automatic Data Processing. The ADP report said the economy added 40,000 private sector jobs last month, above the 30,000 forecast of economists polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

Also today, the Labor Department said the number of newly laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits fell last week. But investors were mindful that these weekly readings can be volatile, and the latest reflected unusual factors related to the Christmas holiday.

Wall Street has for weeks been holding out for Friday’s December jobs snapshot. The Labor Department report should indicate whether the solid job market that existed last year can continue into 2008 and help sustain consumer spending.

Meanwhile, oil set a fresh record of $100.09 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after government figures showed a larger-than-expected decline in crude oil inventories. Analysts said more expensive oil is stirring some concerns about rising prices in general and whether the Federal Reserve would still have room to lower interest rates.

“We are worried about inflation,” said Nicholas Raich, director of equity research at National City Private Client Group in Cleveland. “That’s probably the biggest risk in 2008.”

“There was nothing that was really that helpful in the economic reports today. The jobless claims were a little bit better, but they’re still in a sideways pattern … and the four-week average keeps moving up,” said Linda Duessel, market strategist at Federated Investors in Pittsburgh.

Light, sweet crude, easing back from its record with the normal ebb and flow of trading, was down 55 cents at $99.07 a barrel on the Nymex.

Bond prices rose as stocks retreated from earlier highs. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which trades opposite its price, dipped to 3.89 percent from 3.91 percent late Wednesday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

The market was waiting for Friday’s jobs report because of the link between employment and consumer spending. A slowdown in spending among consumers fearful of losing their jobs, or not being able to find new ones, would be regarded as a heavy blow to the economy. The continuing rise in commodities prices, including a likely uptick in gasoline prices after spikes in oil, makes some investors nervous about the ability of consumers to keep spending apace.

Stocks drew some support from a Commerce Department report that orders to U.S. factories rose in November by the largest amount in four months. However, an important reading of business investment fell for a second straight month.

Concerns about the health of the overall economy weighed on stocks Wednesday and sent each of the major indexes down by more than 1 percent. The Dow Jones industrials lost more than 220 points.