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REUTERS - U.S. stocks were little changed in choppy trading on Friday after a U.S. missile strike on Syria sent investors scurrying to safe-havens, while weak jobs data weighed on financial stocks.
U.S. employers added about 98,000 jobs in March, well below economists' expectation of 180,000. While the job additions were the lowest in 10 months, the Labor Department report was seen as an outlier amid a spate of recent positive economic data.
Financial stocks were hit the most. The S&P 500 financial index was down 0.56 percent, led by banks.
At 11:04 a.m. ET (1504 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 14.13 points, or 0.07 percent, at 20,648.82, the S&P 500 was down 2.06 points, or 0.08 percent, at 2,355.43 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 7.30 points, or 0.12 percent, at 5,871.65.
"This morning's job numbers place another speed bump in front of the equity rally," said Chris Gaffney, president of world markets at EverBank in St. Louis.
"These payroll numbers and the missile strike in Syria will give investors cause for concern. Any momentum in the markets has now been sucked out."
The United States fired several missiles late on Thursday at an airfield in Syria from which a deadly chemical attack was launched earlier this week.
The news of the attack sent global stocks lower, with the S&P 500 futures index falling as much as 0.5 percent. But most of the losses were pared back after U.S. officials described the attack as a one-off that would not lead to wider escalation.
Traditionally defensive sectors such as utilities and telecom services were higher. Gold prices hit a five-month high.
Consumer staples, another defensive sector, was lifted by a 1.2 percent rise in Wal-Mart after Telsey Advisory upgraded the retailer's stock to "outperform".
Shares of Raytheon, which makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles used in the strike was up about 1 percent.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,381 to 1,350. On the Nasdaq, 1,462 issues fell and 1,135 advanced.
The S&P 500 index showed nine 52-week highs and no lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 35 highs and 24 lows.
Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Herbert Lash in New York; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty