The stock market lurched between gains and losses in morning trading Friday as investors held out hope for more economic stimulus from the Federal Reserve and closely monitored the escalating tensions between the US and Syria.
A weak US jobs report for August bolstered hopes that the Fed may hold off on cutting back on its massive bond-buying program when it meets later this month.
Stocks started slightly higher, then moved sharply lower after the first 10 minutes of trading as traders worried about the standoff in Syria. Russian media reported that naval ships were en route to Syria, raising worries of a wider conflict.
The Dow Jones was down 31 points, or 0.2 percent, at 14,905 as of 10:50 a.m. Eastern (1450 GMT). It was up 52 points shortly after trading began, then dropped as much as 148 in the first half-hour of trading before recovering much of its loss.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up a fraction of a point at 1,655 and the Nasdaq composite was unchanged at 3,658.
Traders moved money back into US government bonds on speculation that the weak employment numbers would encourage the Federal Reserve to keep buying bonds. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.90 percent from 3 percent the day before, a big move for the bond market.
Wall Street was rattled by signs that the confrontation between the US and Syria over Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians was getting worse. Three Russian naval ships were sailing toward Syria in the eastern Mediterranean on Friday and a fourth was on its way, the Interfax news agency reported, a sign that Russia may assist Syria in case the US does strike.
"These are troubling developments,'' said David Chalupnik, head of equities for Nuveen Asset Management. "Syria is turning into something bigger that what it started out to be.''
The price of crude oil rose as traders anticipated that any escalation of tensions in the Middle East might disrupt the flow of oil from the region. Oil rose $1.58 to $109.95 a barrel. Gold rose $14 to $1,386 an ounce as investors parked