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Dow Finishes Down as U.S. Sheds Jobs After Coronavirus Cripples Economy

Stocks decline after U.S. companies shed 701,000 jobs in March, pushing the jobless rate up to 4.4%.

Stocks ended down Friday after U.S. companies shed 701,000 jobs in March, pushing the jobless rate up almost a full percentage point to 4.4% and giving Wall Street an early look into how badly the coronavirus pandemic has crippled the U.S. economy.

The fall in jobs last month was the first decline in employment since 2010.

The jobs report followed Thursday's jobless-claims data, which showed 10 million people in the U.S. filed for unemployment benefits over the prior two weeks. Workers in the travel, hospitality and leisure sectors were hit the hardest.

The numbers from the Labor Department are a picture of the jobs market tally up to March 21 - before states began implementing shutdowns of nonessential businesses, from restaurants and bars to retail stores to movie theaters and theme parks. 

"(Friday's) numbers are shockingly bad and an understatement of the damage already done to the U.S. economy," said Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed. 

"If this is an indication of what was happening before the full force of the crisis hit, then it will be hard to come up with the words to describe the numbers in future months." 

James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve of St. Louis, said last week the unemployment rate could reach as high as 30%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 360 points, or 1.69%, to 21,052, the S&P 500 fell 1.51% and the Nasdaq ended down 1.53%.

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Chevron  (CVX) , Home Depot  (HD) , and Verizon  (VZ)  led the Dow's retreat.

The Dow was down 3.5% for the week while the S&P 500 lost 3.1%. The Nasdaq was down 2.8%. 

Stocks closed solidly higher Thursday as Wall Street posted its first gain in three trading sessions. Energy stocks were the leading gainers as crude-oil prices soared after President Donald Trump said he expects Saudi Arabia and Russia to reach an agreement in their bruising price war.

Global oil prices extended gains Friday amid reports that OPEC producers, as well as Russia, were set to hold an emergency teleconference next week to discuss the production cuts suggested by Trump.

The number of confirmed global cases of the coronavirus has risen to 1,076,017, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and deaths increased to 58,004.

Infections crossed 1 million just four months after the first cases surfaced in Wuhan, an industrial city in China.

The U.S. has 261,438 cases of the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins CSSE. Deaths in the U.S. have risen to over 6,600.

The Trump administration is expected to recommend that Americans in coronavirus hot spots wear cloth face masks or other types of face coverings when in public.