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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."