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Frail Jobs Gains Give Markets Jitters

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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 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 lost 3.2% to $17.55 and Cisco Systems slid 2% to $20.61.

Hewlett-Packard 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 plunged 40.2% to $4.50 after an experimental rheumatoid arthritis pill from AstraZeneca 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."