By KEN SWEET
2013-09-04 10:42 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks opened modestly higher Wednesday as traders watched the U.S. moving closer to a military confrontation with Syria.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 15 points, or 0.1 percent, to 14,848 in the first 30 minutes of trading. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose four points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,644 and the Nasdaq composite was up 13 points, or 0.4 percent, to 3,626.
Top national security aides to President Barack Obama were meeting Wednesday to push for strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime in retaliation for what the administration says was a deadly sarin gas attack. Obama has received the endorsement of House Speaker John Boehner as well as key Senate Republicans.
A vote on the strikes could come next week.
Investors are also looking ahead to Friday, when the August jobs report will be released. Economists polled by FactSet expect that the U.S. created 177,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate held steady at 7.4 percent.
Friday's jobs report is the last important piece of economic data the Federal Reserve will have to work with before the central bank decides later this month whether or not to pull back on its massive bond-buying program, which has kept interest rates abnormally low. While most investors believe the central bank will begin to pull back, the question has become when and how much.
"Even if the August employment figures were weaker than expected, we think the odds would likely still favor a September (pullback), just of a smaller magnitude," economists with the investment bank RBS wrote in a note to investors.
U.S. automakers rose after posting monthly sales figures that are sizing up to be the best month since early 2007.
Chrysler reported Wednesday that its U.S. sales rose 12 percent last month, its best August in six years. Ford and General Motors report around 12 p.m. EDT.
In corporate news, Dollar General was up $2.02, or 3.7 percent, to $55.89 after the discount store chain reported an adjusted profit of 77 per share, beating Wall Street analysts' estimates of 74 cents per share, according to FactSet.
Also in the retail industry, Francesca's Holdings plunged after the company reported results that fell short of Wall Street's estimates and cut its forecast for full-year earnings, citing poor customer traffic. The stock sank $6, or 25 percent, to $18.08.