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Stocks Extend Losing Streak on Poor Jobs Data

Citigroup analyst Steven Wieting wasn't all that troubled by the jobs report either, attributing the disappointment to "seasonal distortions" related to this year's unusually mild winter that pulled forward some growth into February.

"We would not alter our estimate that payroll gains will probably average near 175,000 in 2012, just above the 153,000 revised average gain last year," he wrote in commentary early Monday. "It should be remembered that monthly employment data are volatile. Even in the improving trend of 2011, four initial reports showed gains below 60,000, with one report showing a 'zero' change. There was no reason to extrapolate the zero forward."

Meantime, the build-up to first-quarter earnings will continue all week. Alcoa (AA), traditionally the first Dow component to report, is due to open its books after Tuesday's close. A more important report for the broad market arrives on Friday when JPMorgan Chase (JPM) will be the first of the big money-center banks to deliver its results.

Expectations are fairly low for the first quarter. According to Thomson Reuters, the blended estimate is for growth of 3.2% from the S&P 500, down from 9.2% in the fourth quarter. The debate now is whether that low bar might provide a positive catalyst to counter any blips in the economic data.

"People aren't looking for real strong earnings," said Brian Lazorishak, portfolio manager and quantitative analyst at Chase Investment Counsel. "But that's good because we worry when expectations get too far in front of the reality. This leaves us some room for some good news. We expect this to be stock-specific."

"You've already seen with same store sales, some of the off-price retailers are doing pretty well," Lazorishak continued. "You will probably see some companies with big European exposure still dragging."

European stock exchanges were closed on Monday, as were the markets in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Thailand and South Africa. Japan's Nikkei Average fell 1.5% as China's inflation rate rose to 3.6% in March and a strengthening yen hurt shares of exporters.

In corporate news, AOL (AOL) shares soared 43% to close at $26.40 after the Internet company agreed to sell more than 800 of its patents and related applications to Microsoft (MSFT) and grant the software giant a non-exclusive license to its retained patent portfolio for more than $1 billion in cash.
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