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Stocks closed slightly higher Friday as a better-than-expected employment report was offset by rising geopolitical concerns over Ukraine.

The Standard & Poor's 500 eked out a small gain and set another record high close as the benchmark index rose 1.01 point, or 0.1%, to 1878.04, according to preliminary calculations.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 30.83 points, or 0.2%, to close at 16,45.72 and the Nasdaq composite index dropped 15.90 points, or 0.4%, to 4,336.22.

Stocks gave up early gains that were initially sparked after the government reported employers added a better-than-expected 175,000 jobs in February.

The Labor Department also said the unemployment rate bumped up to 6.7% from 6.6%. The jobs number was a big beat, as economists surveyed by Action Economics estimated that 157,000 jobs were added last month.

But the data also is likely to end talk of the Federal Reserve slowing the pace of its wind down of its bond-buying program, says Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. Recent weak data on the economy related to severe winter weather had some economists speculating that the Fed could "taper its so-called taper" of its stimulus program.

"The rebound in US payroll employment in February, to 175,000 from 129,000 in January, pretty much guarantees that the Fed will taper its asset purchases further at the mid-March meeting, especially as payrolls would have been stronger if it wasn't for the unusually severe weather," says Dales.

ECONOMY: Employers add 175,000 jobs in February

Investors were also concerned about continuing tension in Ukraine, where the region of Crimea is preparing for a referendum on whether to split away and become part of Russia.

Lawmakers in Russian-occupied Crimea unanimously declared they wanted to join Russia and would put the decision to voters in 10 days. President Barack Obama and several other Western leaders have condemned the referendum.

"The concerns on the geopolitical front are overshadowing the good news we got from the jobs number," said Dean Junkans, chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank, which manages $170 billion in assets.

The jobs number was initially greeted positively by Wall Street.

"Big surprise to the upside, and the underlying metrics support additional strength in next month's jobs report," says Todd Schoenberger, managing partner at LandColt Capital. "Despite headwinds, such as the continuation of a brutally cold winter, the labor market persevered, which leads to added optimism for a spring thaw in discretionary spending as we close out the first quarter of 2014. Wall Street will cheer this report because strict attention is now given to economic and fundamental analysis as the FOMC continues its tapering strategy."

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.79% from 2.74% late Thursday. The yield had been as low as 2.60% earlier this week.

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Heading into today's trading session the Dow was within 1% of a new record high. And the S&P 500 started the day within 23 points of the 1900 milestone for the first time in its history.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 rose 3.22 points, or 0.2%, to close at a record high of 1,877.03, and also hit a new intraday high of 1,881.94. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 61.71 points, or 0.4% to 16,421.89, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 5.85 points, or 0.1% to 4,352.13.

THURSDAY: S&P 500 closes at record high on job data beat

In addition to digesting Friday's employment report, investors will be watching for China's expected release of trade and inflation data over the weekend.

In Asia, the Nikkei 225 rose 139.32 points, or 0.9%, to 15,274.07 points, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost 42.48 points, or 0.2%, to 22,660,49 and the Shanghai composite index lost 1.67 points, or 0.1%, to 2,057.91.

India's Sensex set a new high, up 1.5% to 21,829.26 after investors were encouraged by the announcement of elections beginning next month.

European markets were lower as Britain's FTSE 100 index fell 1.1% to 6,712.67. Germany's DAX index dropped 2% to 9,350.75 and France's CAC 40 index fell 1.2% to 4,365.02.

Contributing: The Associated Press

The U.S. unemployment rate rises to 6.7% from 6.6%, while the economy adds 175,000 jobs in February. Pension Partners research director Charlie Bilello says the number is good for the markets, not too hot and not too cold. Newslook

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