Dow fights back

The blue-chip indicator musters a gain after hitting a 12-year low on the weak jobs report and bank woes.

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By Alexandra Twin, senior writer

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NEW YORK ( -- Stocks staged a comeback late Friday afternoon, with the Dow and S&P 500 bouncing after hitting 12-year lows on a bleak February jobs report and more worries about the bank sector.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) rose 32 points, or 0.5%. During the session, the Dow briefly touched 6469.95, the lowest intraday level since April 15, 1997. The Dow has fallen in 14 of the last 19 sessions.

The S&P 500 (SPX) index added less than 1 point, or 0.1%. Earlier, the S&P fell to 666.79, its lowest point during a session since Sept. 11, 1996.

The Nasdaq composite (COMP) lost 5 points, or 0.4%. The tech-fueled index briefly touched 1268.54, breaking through its November lows, before closing above that level.

Stocks slipped through most of the session, but the losses were pretty slim considering the implications of the grim jobs report. In the last hour of trade, stocks staged a recovery, with the blue chips ending with gains.

Stocks cut losses on a mix of technical factors and news reports that Britain will take a stake of up to 75% in Lloyd's banking group. Britain will also cap losses on the troubled bank.

Wall Street may be getting nearer to a momentary plateau, and the fact that stocks didn't see a bigger selloff on the dismal jobs report could be a positive indication, said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co.

Although Wall Street could be on track to stabilize, that doesn't mean that a so-called bottom is forming, analysts said.

"Everyone has been trying to pick a bottom for the last two months and they've gotten killed," said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at National Securities.

However, with the major gauges at multi-year lows and reports indicating investors are getting more bearish, there is a contrarian case to be made for a bear market rally forming.

Next week brings little in the way of market-moving economic or earnings news. But what could be especially of interest to Wall Streeters is a Congressional hearing Thursday about mark-to-market accounting - a rule that critics say has caused the credit crisis to accelerate.

"Everyone is looking to the hearing and as the week develops that could be big," he said.

Jobs: Employers cut 651,000 jobs from their payrolls in February, roughly in line with forecasts for cuts of 650,000, the government reported. January's losses were revised higher to 655,000. December's losses were revised up to 681,000, the most in any month since 1949.

However, market participants were bracing for a more dismal payroll number, and had already sold shares leading up to the report.

The unemployment rate, generated by a separate survey, rose to 8.1% from 7.6% in January, its highest level in 25 years. Economists thought unemployment would rise to 7.9%.

The White House said the job losses show there is a long way to go before the economy recovers.

New York Federal Reserve Bank President William C. Dudley said that the economy has considerable momentum to the downside. Dudley is also the vice chairman of the Fed's policy-making panel.

Stocks tumbled Thursday on a slew of bad news: GM said its survival is in doubt, Citigroup broke the buck, and China disappointed by failing to boost its economic stimulus program.

As of Friday afternoon, the Dow is down over 6% for the week.

Since closing at all-time highs on Oct. 9, 2007, the Dow has lost nearly 53% and the S&P 500 has lost 56%. Year-to-date, both the Dow and the S&P 500 are down nearly 25%.

Company news: Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) said it will slash its quarterly dividend 85% to 5 cents from 34 cents in an attempt to save $5 billion a year. Shares gained 6%.

But other financial stocks continued to struggle after the previous session's selloff. Dow component Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) again struggled around the $1 per share mark.

Fellow Dow stock General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) plunged another 22%, after touching a 75-year low earlier in the session.

Dow stock General Electric (GE, Fortune 500) managed to bounce back from 18-year lows hit earlier in the week. The stock has been sliding on worries that the company's management hasn't fully accounted for losses in the Capital division, which has been plagued by the same issues as the rest of the financial sector.

Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) led the tech losers after JPMorgan Chase downgraded the stock.

Market breadth was negative. On the New York Stock Exchange, losers beat winners three to two on volume of 1.77 billion shares. On the Nasdaq, decliners topped advancers by a narrow margin on volume of 2.51 billion shares.

Bonds: Treasury prices fell, raising the yield on the benchmark 10-year note to 2.87% from 2.81% Thursday. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions.

Lending rates were little changed. The 3-month Libor rate rose to 1.29% from 1.28% on Thursday, while the overnight Libor rate held steady at 0.32%, according to Libor is a bank-to-bank lending rate.

Other markets: In global trading, most Asian markets ended lower. European markets closed lower as well.

In currency trading, the dollar fell versus the euro and rose against the yen.

U.S. light crude oil for April delivery rose $1.91 to settle at $45.52 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

COMEX gold for April delivery settled up $14.90 to settle at $942.70 an ounce. To top of page

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