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Week in Review: Soft Jobs Report Caps Off Week of Fed Speculation

Tickers in this article: JOY CRM LULU

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The question of when the Federal Reserve would next raise rates dominated yet another week with Wall Street eagerly awaiting Friday's jobs report to either support or reject the case for a September hike.

But once it came, the August jobs number, unquestionably weak, did little to curb choppiness as some had expected it would. Instead, the soft headline number and more hawkish comments from Fed members left investors as uncertain as ever.

Range-bound choppy trading left markets slightly higher for the week. The S&P 500 was up 0.50% since Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average  added 0.52%, and the Nasdaq gained 0.59%.

A weaker-than-expected jobs report released Friday morning gave investors reason to believe the Fed wouldn't hike rates until later in the year, if at all. The U.S. created 151,000 jobs in August, below consensus of 180,000 jobs.

"This week's disappointing data from the world's largest economy has dampened expectations for a rate rise in 2016, though it has not been entirely moved out of the equation," said Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst at Forex.com. "Unfortunately it just means that uncertainty about the next rate rise will remain in place for far longer than one would have liked."

A range of hawkish and dovish comments from Fed members has added to the murky hike outlook. Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said on Friday afternoon that higher interest rates would be warranted unless the labor market sees a significant slowdown in coming months.

"It appears that the funds rate should be significantly higher than it is now," he said in remarks to economists in Richmond. Lacker isn't a voting member on the Federal Open Market Committee.

Compare that with Chicago Fed President Charles Evans who said on Wednesday that slower U.S. economic growth will likely continue, leading to a prolonged period of low interest rates for the foreseeable futures. Evans also noted that low expectations among investors has become entrenched, allowing the Fed to delay a hike without financial instability.

Earlier in the week, Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer noted that the U.S. labor market is "very close to full employment" and that the next interest rate increase might not be "one and done."

Commentary took a hawkish turn a week earlier after Fed Chair Janet Yellen said the U.S. economy had improved in recent months to the point where near-crises levels of rates weren't justified. Yellen's comments were made in her widely anticipated speech at the annual Economic Policy Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo.