Interest rates plummeted on Thursday, as government bonds rallied ahead of today's key national employment report.

At 4 p.m., the price of the Treasury's 30-year bond was up about 5/8, lowering the yield to 6.04% from 6.09% on Thursday.

Ten-year Treasury notes were up about 1/4, reducing the yield to 5.41% from 5.44%; five-year notes gained about 1/4, cutting the yield to 4.76% from 4.80%; and two-year notes were up about 1/8, lowering the yield to 3.81% from 3.85%. The bond-equivalent yield on the three-month Treasury fell to 3.04% from 3.05%.

Factory Orders Off

The bond market got an initial boost when the Commerce Department reported that factory orders fell a stronger-than-expected 2.1% in July, the biggest drop in 19 months.

Precious-metals prices plunged, with gold falling $6.70 to $364.10 an ounce and silver dropping $19 an ounce to $456 on the New York Commodities Exchange. Some funds sold gold and bought Treasuries, market analysis said.

Astrid Adolfson, an economist for MCM MoneyWatch, noted that the Federal Reserve also boosted the market by buying intermediate-term notes for a foreign central bank.

Stocks were mixed. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 19 points to 3,626.10. The Standard & Poor's 500 lost 1.85 to 461.30. But the Nasdaq index rose 2.52 to a record 748.67.

The dollar fell to 1.6427 German marks from 1.6593, but rose to 105.80 yen from 105.30.

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