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U.S. stocks fall; Dow slips below 13000

U.S. stocks closed sharply lower Monday following disappointing job growth in March. The Dow fell 130 points to 12929, its first close below 13000 in a month. 

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Traders Thomas Kay, left, and Steven Kaplan work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange April 9, 2012. U.S. stocks fell sharply Monday as Wall Street got its first chance to react to a slowdown in hiring in the United States in March. The Dow fell below 13000 for the first time in a month.

Richard Drew/AP

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U.S. stocks closed sharply lower Monday after investors delivered their verdict on disappointing job growth in March. It was the worst four-day losing streak of the year for the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500.

The Dow finished down 130.55 points at 12,929.59, its first close below 13,000 since March 12. The S&P ended the day off 15.88 points at 1,382.20. The Nasdaq composite closed down 33.42 at 3,047.08.

The U.S. added just 120,000 jobs in March, about half the pace from December through February, which interrupted the strongest stretch of job growth since the Great Recession. Markets were closed Friday, giving investors a long weekend to brood over the disappointing report.

Losses in stocks were broad. All 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 fell, with financial stocks the worst performers. Bank of America fell 3.2 percent, and Citigroup was off 2.4 percent. Volume was light at 3.1 billion shares. Declining stocks outnumbered advancers by about 4-to-1 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Investors bought bonds, sending the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note to 2.04 percent, down 0.02 percentage points from Friday. Yields also fell for longer-term U.S. bonds.

The weak job numbers comes at a time when investors were already nervous because the Federal Reserve indicated that it would not take further steps to stimulate the economy.

However, just one report doesn't make a trend, points out Rex Macey, chief investment officer at Wilmington Trust Investment Advisers.

"Like that doctor, I'd order up more tests before declaring this as a trend," said Macey.

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Investors had started to pull back from its strongest first quarter since 1998. The Dow closed as high as 13,264 earlier last week, then lost more than 200 points in three days. The Federal Reserve has said it supports low interest rates to help economic growth. However, it signaled that unless the economy weakened further the Fed was unlikely to offer more stimulus by buying bonds as it has in the past.

"Bernanke doesn't want to play anymore," said Macey. "The Fed is not going to waste any ammunition unless it sees further weakness."

This week, investors turn their attention to first-quarter earnings reports. Aluminum maker Alcoa releases results Tuesday, the first of the 30 companies in the Dow. Two major banks, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, report Friday.

Analysts are expecting quarterly earnings to decline slightly compared with a year earlier. That would break a streak of nine quarters of earnings growth since 2009.

Crude oil prices fell 1.9 percent, while gold and platinum rose a little less than 1 percent.

In other corporate news:

AOL shot up 43 percent after the company agreed to sell hundreds of patents and patent applications to Microsoft for a little more than $1 billion. The company plans to return some of the cash to shareholders.

Avon fell 3.1 percent after the struggling beauty products company named a former executive at Johnson & Johnson, Sherilyn McCoy, to be its CEO. Investors read it as a signal that Avon will fend off acquisition overtures.


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