* Feb nonfarm payrolls increase 242,000
* HP Enterprise up after strong results
* Indexes up: Dow 0.38 pct, S&P 0.41 pct, Nasdaq 0.39 pct (Updates to early afternoon)
By Abhiram Nandakumar
March 4 (Reuters) - Wall Street drifted higher on Friday, after swinging between gains and losses, as data showing strong employment gains last month was tempered by a drop in wages and hours worked.
Gains by energy and materials stocks pushed the S&P 500 above 2,000 and the Dow over 17,000 for the first time since Jan. 6, as data further highlighted that the economic recovery was gaining momentum.
Nonfarm payrolls increased by 242,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said on Friday. However, lower wages and hours worked kept a lid on inflation, a key factor in the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise rates.
The Fed has targeted a 2 percent annual inflation rate as a precursor to a sustained rise in interest rates.
“The number was strong enough to worry investors about the Fed’s desire to move again in March, and yet was not so strong to put on the table a higher-than-a-coin-toss probability that it occurs in March,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.
“The number had a little something for everybody, but at the same time, left enough confusion in the market to not take anything away from it.”
The Fed meets next on March 15-16. Traders still see the odds overwhelmingly against a rate hike this month.
At 12:19 p.m. ET (1719 GMT), the Dow Jones industrial average was up 64.41 points, or 0.38 percent, at 17,008.31, the S&P 500 was up 8.22 points, or 0.41 percent, at 2,001.62 and the Nasdaq Composite index was up 18.49 points, or 0.39 percent, at 4,725.91.
Seven of the 10 S&P sectors were higher, led by a 1.85 percent rise in the energy sector.
Shares of Hewlett Packard Enterprise were up 13.4 percent at $15.43 after the company reported better-than-expected results.
Broadcom was up 6.9 percent at $146.74 after the chipmaker reported higher-than-expected profit.
H & R Block was down 16.8 percent at $27.38 after the tax preparer reported a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss.
Carmike Cinemas was up 16.5 percent at $29.25 after AMC Entertainment said it would buy the theater chain for $1.1 billion, including debt. AMC was up 3.3 percent at $26.55.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,160 to 772. On the Nasdaq, 1,885 issues rose and 823 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed 15 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 24 new highs and 21 lows. (Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D‘Silva)