Natural gas companies were among the best performers on the S&P 500 as the price of the fuel rose 4.5 percent on concerns about supplies. The price of the fuel has risen 21 percent since the start of the year. Cabot Oil & Gas climbed $3.32, or 5.1 percent, to $67.96 and WPX Energy gained 80 cents, or 5.2 percent, to $16.15.
Stocks pared their early losses as some investors inferred that slowing U.S. growth meant that the Federal Reserve would stick to its stimulus program. The central bank is buying $85 billion dollars in bonds every month as part of an effort to revive the economy. Its actions have been a big factor pushing the stock market higher this year.
Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial, said the slowdown in hiring made it more likely that the Fed would continue with its easy-money policy, which includes keeping interest rates at historically low levels.
Investors will shift their focus to earnings reports next week.
Alcoa, the first company in the Dow index to report earnings, will release its first-quarter financial results after the markets close Monday. Analysts expect profits for S&P 500 companies to rise 0.6 percent in the first quarter compared with the same period a year earlier, according to S&P Capital IQ. That compares with an increase of 7.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, plunged from 1.76 percent to 1.71 percent. The yield fell as low as 1.69 percent, the lowest since December. The benchmark rate has declined sharply over the last month, from 2.06 percent on March 11, as demand for low-risk assets increased amid mounting evidence that growth in the U.S. economy is slowing.
Matthew Coffina, an editor at Morningstar StockInvestor, said stocks are still a better investment than bonds over the next decade because bonds will be vulnerable to any rise in inflation or interest rates. “We still have a strong preference for stocks,” Coffina said.