Stocks Extend Losing Streak on Poor Jobs Data


NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Stocks fell for the fourth day in a row Monday as disappointing news on job creation in March gave investors pause ahead of first-quarter reporting season.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 131 points, or 1%, to close at 12,930, its first finish below 13,000 since March 12. The blue-chip index caught a slight bounce off its intraday low of 12,904 and is still up 5.8% in 2012.

The biggest laggards within the Dow were Bank of America ( BAC), Caterpillar ( CAT), and Walt Disney ( DIS).

Only two of the Dow's 30 components -- McDonald's ( MCD) and Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) -- finished in the green.

The S&P 500 shed 16 points, or 1.1%, to finish at 1382. The financials, materials and transportation sectors led the declines. The index has gained 9.9% year-to-date.

The Nasdaq tumbled 33 points, or 1.1%, to settle at 3047. It ran as low as 3032 on Monday and remains 18% higher on the year.

On Friday, while Wall Street was closed for the Good Friday holiday, the federal government said nonfarm payrolls increased 120,000 in March, far short of the 200,000 gain that economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters were expecting. The unemployment rate fell to 8.2% from 8.3% for the month. The market expected the rate to remain unchanged at 8.3%.

The average workweek for private-sector employees slipped by 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours in March. Average hourly earnings rose by 5 cents, or 0.2%, to $23.39. Private-sector payrolls increased by 121,000, while government employment was virtually unchanged.

The VIX, known as Wall Street's fear gauge, popped nearly 12% on the renewed economic fears to settle 18.67. The VIX measures implied volatility through options pricing for the S&P 500. A reading above 20 is seen as the point where fear is on the rise.

Despite the selling pressure on stocks, Michael Gayed, chief investment strategist at Pension Partners, was impressed the decline wasn't deeper.

"The jobs data is just for one month, so maybe the bears will say that they'll give it the benefit of the doubt and that this isn't the start of a trend toward weak job growth," he said. However, "if we see the 10-year yield break 2%, that could get people's attention. It could lead to a panic scenario."

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.

Apple ( AAPL) was also in the news, this time because of a rare downgrade. Walter Piecyk, a technology analyst at BTIG Research, went to neutral on the stock from buy, saying the large iPhone subsidies that wireless carriers have been offering will come to an end, putting the tech heavyweight's profit margins at risk.

The downgrade did little to dissuade buyers though as Apple shares hit a new all-time high of $639.83, and finished up 0.4% at $636.23. The sell side remains overwhelmingly bullish with more than 80% of the 51 analysts covering the company at strong buy or buy.

Yahoo!'s ( YHOO) head of products, Blake Irving, is leaving the company following last week's news that the Internet company is slashing 2,000 jobs.

Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson is slated to hold an all-staff meeting Tuesday to brief employees on the company's new management structure, a source told Reuters. Yahoo! shares added 0.2% at $15.10.

Great Wolf Resorts ( WOLF) plans to evaluate a sweetened takeover bid of $7 a share in cash from private equity firm KSL Capital Partners. Great Wolf, an operator of indoor water parks, rejected an earlier bid of $6.25 a share from KSL.

The latest bid from KSL tops an agreed-to bid from Apollo Global Management ( APO) that values Great Wolf shares at $6.75 each. Great Wolf shares surged 13% to close at $7.44.

May oil futures slipped 85 cents to settle at $102.46 a barrel, while June gold futures gained $14 to settle at $1,646 an ounce.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury climbed 2/32, diluting the yield to 2.05%, while the U.S. dollar index fell 0.1% at $79.759.

--Written by Andrea Tse and Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York.

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

If you liked this article you might like

Forecast for S&P 500, Dow Industrials Remains Bullish, These Charts Show

Forecast for S&P 500, Dow Industrials Remains Bullish, These Charts Show

Dow 20,000! It Should Mean Nothing to Investors, but Then Again...

Dow 20,000! It Should Mean Nothing to Investors, but Then Again...

Tradebird Investors Are Bullish on U.S. Stocks but Bearish on the Euro

Tradebird Investors Are Bullish on U.S. Stocks but Bearish on the Euro

Why Home Depot and Boeing Stock Fell Tuesday

Why Home Depot and Boeing Stock Fell Tuesday