* U.S. job growth an upbeat sign for weather-beaten economy
* Putin rebuffs Obama as Ukraine crisis escalates
* Dow up 0.2 pct; S&P 500 flat; Nasdaq down 0.5 pct
By Angela Moon
NEW YORK, March 7 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks trimmed earlier gains on Friday’s jobs data to trade little changed by midday as investors turned cautious before the weekend, with the S&P 500 near record highs and a simmering crisis in Ukraine.
The S&P 500 climbed to an intraday record high shortly after the opening bell, lifted by the government’s report showing that U.S. employers added 175,000 jobs to their payrolls in February. The consensus forecast was for a gain of 149,000 jobs, according to economists polled by Reuters. The unemployment rate, however, edged up to 6.7 percent in February from a five-year low of 6.6 percent in January.
“It seems that the decent February employment report, although a step in the right direction, has resolved little,” said Andrew Wilkinson, chief market analyst at Interactive Brokers LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
“Stocks are suffering from some inevitable ebbing following the latest strong flow. That, in turn, has prompted further defensive demand for the protection afforded by options.”
The CBOE Volatility Index or the VIX, Wall Street’s fear gauge, fell 1.6 percent to 13.98. But VIX futures for April traded at 15.75, while VIX May futures were at 16.45.
Both the Dow and the S&P 500 are on track for a second straight week of gains, while the Nasdaq is poised for its fifth straight weekly advance. The Dow is up 0.8 percent for the week, while the S&P 500 is up 0.9 percent for the week.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 24.03 points or 0.15 percent, to 16,445.92. The S&P 500 dipped 0.87 of a point or 0.05 percent, to 1,876.16. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 23.343 points or 0.54 percent, to 4,328.782.
Geopolitical concerns increased when Russian President Vladimir Putin rebuffed a warning from U.S. President Barack Obama over Moscow’s military intervention in Crimea, saying Russia could not ignore calls for help from Russian speakers in Ukraine.
Investors, after initially piling into gold, crude and grains on Monday as tensions escalated over Crimea last weekend, have cautiously returned to stocks around the world. A gauge of global equities traded near a six-year high, while the S&P 500 closed on Thursday at a record.
Shares of FireEye Inc dropped 9.5 percent to $81.05 after the network security company priced the follow-on public offering of 14 million shares of its common stock at $82 per share.
Safeway Inc, the second-largest U.S. mainstream grocery store operator, said Thursday that private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management would acquire the company in a deal valued at about $9.4 billion. Safeway shares fell 3 percent to $38.30.
Skullcandy Inc shares jumped 32.8 percent to $9.87 after the headphone maker posted fourth-quarter earnings and provided an outlook for the first-quarter and full year.
Big Lots Inc shares surged 20.9 percent to $35.35 after the close-outs retailer reported a better-than-expected adjusted profit for the holiday quarter.