Stocks drop amid Ukraine fighting

The US stock market ended lower today as a surprisingly strong report on job gains failed to impress investors.

Trader Neil Catania works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (AP)
Trader Neil Catania works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (AP)

Stocks rose early in the day after the government reported that US employers hired at the fastest pace in two years last month.

The Standard and Poor's 500 index briefly rose above its record closing high.

The market started to slump in late morning trading on news of downed helicopters and killed fighters in eastern Ukraine. Early yesterday Ukrainian government forces attacked pro-Russian insurgents in the region.

All three major US stock indexes wavered between gains and losses for most of the day.

Among the biggest losers was LinkedIn. The online professional networking service fell 8% after reporting its largest quarterly loss since going public.

Expedia, the online travel site, fell nearly 4%, and Pfizer fell 1.3% after the drug company's latest offer to buy AstraZeneca was rejected by its board.

In the jobs report, the government said employers added 288,000 jobs in April, 70,000 more than expected. Hiring was stronger in the prior two months than initially estimated, too.

The unemployment rate for April plunged to 6.3%, the lowest since September 2008.

A few details of the report were less encouraging. The drop in the unemployment rate probably reflected long-term jobless who had been out of work for six months or more before finally giving up looking for work.

People are not counted as unemployed unless they're looking for a job.

"Long-term unemployment is higher than expected, but overall (the report) is positive," said Brad Sorensen, director of market and sector research at Charles Schwab.

He added, "There isn't a ton of enthusiasm in the market."

Among the stocks taking big hits today was Madison Square Garden, which fell 3.62 dollars, or 6.6%, to 51.47 dollars. The owner of sports teams and entertainment venues like Radio City Music Hall said its earnings fell by half in its fiscal third quarter, partly due to a management change and a costly delay for a Rockettes production.

More than halfway through the first-quarter reporting season, earnings for all companies in the S&P 500 are forecast to have grown 1.7%, according to S&P Capital IQ, a data provider. That compares with nearly 8% last quarter.

"We've got decent earnings growth, but it's not great," said Dan Morris, global investment strategist at TIAA-CREF.

"We want the market to always hit new highs, but it has to be driven by earnings growth."

Today, the S&P 500 fell 2.54 points, or 0.1%, to 1,881.14. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 45.98 points, or 0.3%, to 16,512.89. The Nasdaq composite dropped 3.55 points, or 0.1%, to 4,123.90.

In Ukraine, the government sent armoured vehicles and troops to oust pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern city of Slovyansk. Two Ukrainian helicopters were shot down, and several people were reported dead.

Russia said Ukraine's offensive "destroyed" a two-week-old agreement on defusing the crisis.

Investors sought safety in US Treasurys, pushing bond prices higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.59%, near near its lowest level of the year.

The price of crude oil rose 34 cents to 99.76 dollars per barrel.