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Frail Jobs Gains Give Markets Jitters

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stocks sold off Friday after a substantial slowdown in jobs growth stoked pessimism about the pace of the country's economic recovery.

The S&P 500 fell 0.43% to 1,553.27, to drop 1% for the week -- its largest weekly decline this year. The retreat by stocks sets a pensive tone for the second quarter after the S&P hit a record high just a week ago.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the U.S. added just 88,000 jobs in March, a sharp slowdown from an upwardly revised 268,000 jobs in February. The jobless rate fell to 7.6% from 7.7% because the labor force continued to shrink. Economists, on average, estimated that 200,000 jobs would be added to nonfarm payrolls and the unemployment rate would remain at 7.7%.

"This was an ugly report ... when taken with the recent disappointment in ISM and housing numbers this may cause a reassessment of what we feel currently about the economy," JJ Kinahan, Chicago-based chief derivatives strategist at TD Ameritrade, said in an emailed comment.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.28% to 14,565.25. The blue-chip index slid 0.09% on the week. The Nasdaq closed off 0.65% to 3,203.86. The tech-heavy index stumbled 1.95% for the week.

F5 Networks (FFIV - Get Report) was the worst performer on the S&P as shares plummeted 19% to $73.21 after the network gear maker on Thursday predicted much worse-than-expected second-quarter results after suffering the impact of U.S. federal budget cuts and a delay in orders in North America.

The company's rivals were also declining. Juniper Networks (JNPR - Get Report) lost 3.2% to $17.55 and Cisco Systems (CSCO) slid 2% to $20.61.

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ - Get Report) shares finished down 1.5% to $21.97 as chairman Ray Lane stepped down from the PC maker after stockholders sought his ouster following several hiccups by the board, including the acquisition of software company Autonomy.

Rigel Pharmaceuticals (RIGL - Get Report) plunged 40.2% to $4.50 after an experimental rheumatoid arthritis pill from AstraZeneca (AZN) and Rigel produced mixed results in a late-stage clinical trial, raising additional questions about the drug's future.

A disappointing March nonfarm payrolls report resulted in a powerful surge for gold, with the yellow metal for June delivery closing up $23.50 to $1,575.90 an ounce. May crude oil futures settled down 56 cents to $92.70 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as slower jobs growth could translate into less commuters and a curb in demand for oil and gasoline.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was jumping 17/32, pushing the yield down toward its lowest level since Dec. 12 at 1.708%.

"Net net a soft report even with upward revisions and that ongoing decline in participation is a suggestion that jobs are not so rife and encouraging," David Ader, head of U.S. government-bond strategy at CRT Capital Group LLC in Stamford, Conn. said in a note. "Others will argue this is about demographics, but we don't see how suddenly everyone's retiring and have written about how 55 year olds [and older] are getting most of the jobs."

Market participants continued to keep their eye on the nuclear and military threats from North Korea after the country reportedly moved an intermediate-range missile to its east coast.

They are also gearing up for first-quarter earnings, which will be kicked off by Alcoa (AA) next Monday after the markets close.

The FTSE 100 in London dropped 1.49% and the DAX in Germany tumbled 2.03%.

The dollar was falling 0.23% to $82.53 according to the U.S. dollar index.

Written by Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.

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