(Reuters) – U.S. stocks edged higher on Friday after solid gains in January, as stronger-than-expected jobs data eased concerns about a slowdown, although disappointing outlook from e-commerce giant Amazon capped gains.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The S&P 500 closed out its best month since October 2015 as upbeat earnings reports, hopes of a trade deal between the United States and China and dovish remarks from the Federal Reserve drove markets to a strong start in 2019.

Adding to the optimism, U.S. job growth surged in January, pointing to underlying strength in the economy despite a darkening outlook that has left the Fed wary about more interest rate hikes this year.

The Labor Department showed nonfarm payrolls jumped by 304,000 jobs last month, the largest gain since February 2018. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls increasing by 165,000. The report was followed by better-than-expected manufacturing activity and consumer sentiment data for the last month.

“It’s really difficult not to see this set of data as anything other than positive,” said Matt Forester, chief investment officer at Lockwood Advisors. “A very strong employment report is showing it’s too early to sell the stocks on recession in the near-term.”

Even as the United States remains on a steady footing, investors are concerned that a slowdown overseas could hurt profit growth, with high-profile companies such as Apple Inc warning of slowing demand in China.

Data showed China’s manufacturing sector shrank for the second straight month in January, heightening risks for global growth amid a trade war with United States.

“There is a big valuation discrepancy between U.S. and other developed and emerging markets. It is the biggest disparity we have seen in decades.”

Amazon.com Inc fell 4.2 percent after its quarterly sales forecast fell short of Wall Street estimates, overshadowing its record sales and profit during the holiday season.

The results weighed on other retail stocks, with Walmart Inc, Macy’s Inc and Kohl’s Corp dropping about 3 percent lower. The S&P consumer discretionary index fell 1.4 percent.

At 11:20 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 116.18 points, or 0.46 percent, at 25,115.85, the S&P 500 was up 4.28 points, or 0.16 percent, at 2,708.38 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 5.18 points, or 0.07 percent, at 7,276.56.

Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp jumped more than 3 percent after the oil majors reported better-than-expected quarterly profits, boosting the Dow Jones industrial index.

The S&P energy index rose 1.8 percent, led by higher oil prices and upbeat earnings in the sector.

Cigna Corp fell 2.2 percent after the health insurer forecast 2019 revenue and earnings below estimates.

The insurer’s shares, along with other pharmacy benefit managers, took a hit after the U.S. government proposed a rule to end the industry-wide system of rebates, which they get from drugmakers, in efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs for consumers. CVS Health Corp fell 1.2 percent and UnitedHealth Group Inc slipped 0.9 percent, dragging the S&P healthcare index down 0.2 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners for a 1.18-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.19-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 27 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 39 new highs and 13 new lows.

Reporting by Sruthi Shankar, additional reporting by Medha Singh and Amy Caren Daniel in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta


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