* March payrolls data better than expected
* Regeneron up after eczema treatment found effective
* Indexes up: Dow 0.12 pct, S&P 0.01 pct, Nasdaq 0.21 pct (Updates to early afternoon)
By Abhiram Nandakumar
April 1 (Reuters) - Wall Street was slightly higher on Friday after data pointed to strength in the U.S. labor market and a rebound in the manufacturing sector.
Gains were limited by a nearly 4 percent fall in crude prices amid increasing skepticism around a deal to freeze crude production.
The Labor Department’s report showed solid gains in nonfarm payrolls in March. Unemployment rate rose to 5 percent from an eight-year low of 4.9 percent as more Americans entered the labor force.
A separate report showed the U.S. manufacturing sector resumed growth in March, bolstered by strength in new orders, suggesting stronger corporate earnings ahead.
“Most of the economic data goes into a ‘what will the Fed do’ quandary,” said Kim Forrest, research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. “I think what we’ve gotten today is that it’s weak enough to still support the two rate hikes, maybe one rate hike.”
Traders are pricing in only one hike in 2016, but the odds are now about a one-in-three chance of a hike in June, and a better-than-even chance of one by September, based on the price of Fed funds futures contracts.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen this week urged caution on raising rates, given the global risks to the U.S. economy and low oil prices.
At 12:35 p.m. ET (1635 GMT), the Dow Jones industrial average was up 22.06 points, or 0.12 percent, at 17,707.15, the S&P 500 was up 0.12 points, or 0.01 percent, at 2,059.86 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 10.21 points, or 0.21 percent, at 4,880.06.
Five of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher. The healthcare sector rose 0.63 percent, boosted by Regeneron.
The drugmaker’s shares were up 12.3 percent at $404.83 after its experimental treatment for eczema was found to be highly effective in two large studies.
The S&P energy sector was down 1.7 percent. Chevron was off 1.4 percent and weighed the most on the Dow, while Exxon fell 1 percent and was the biggest drag on the S&P.
U.S. stocks ended the first quarter with a whimper on Thursday after a seven-week rally that rescued the S&P 500 from its worst start to a year since 2009. The recovery helped the S&P and the Dow log their second-straight quarter of gains.
Marriott was down 5.9 percent at $67.03 after China’s Anbang Insurance abandoned its $14 billion bid for Starwood Hotels. Starwood was down 5 percent at $79.29.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,912 to 1,024. On the Nasdaq, 1,391 issues fell and 1,303 rose.
The S&P 500 index showed 48 new 52-week highs and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 36 new highs and 16 new lows. (Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)