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U.S. Stocks Decline as Employment Report Misses Estimates

U.S. stocks fell, dragging the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lower following its worst week of 2012, after employers added fewer jobs than forecast in March.

Caterpillar Inc. and General Electric Co. sank more than 1.5 percent, pacing declines among industrial shares. Financial shares lost 1.6 percent among 10 groups in the S&P 500. Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. erased at least 2.4 percent. Alcoa Inc., scheduled to report earnings tomorrow, slipped 0.3 percent. AOL Inc. soared 43 percent after agreeing to sell and license patents to Microsoft Corp.

The S&P 500 slumped 1.1 percent to 1,382.20 at 4 p.m. New York time, after losing 0.7 percent last week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 130.55 points, or 1 percent, to 12,929.59. About 5.5 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges today, 19 percent below the three-month average. Equity markets were shut for Good Friday on April 6, when the employment report was released.

“At the moment, the one big news story that people have to focus on is the jobs number so there’s a focus on the disappointment there,” John Carey, who helps oversee about $220 billion at Pioneer Investments in Boston, said in a telephone interview. “The economy does continue to grow, but slowly, and I think that’s been the source of frustration for a lot of investors, that we haven’t had the big forward movement in the economy like we have in the past.”

Equities slumped last week after the Federal Reserve signaled it will refrain from further monetary stimulus and concern about Europe intensified. The U.S. Labor Department said April 6 that employers added 120,000 jobs, the fewest in five months and less than the median economist forecast of 205,000 in a Bloomberg survey. The amount had exceeded 200,000 for three straight months.

‘Real Shock’

“This is a real shock,” Donald Selkin, the New York-based chief market strategist at National Securities Corp., which manages about $3 billion, said last week after the jobs report. “Everybody is so hung up on the 200,000 increase.”

The U.S. jobs report presents a challenge that stocks have overcome nine times during the bull market that’s driven the S&P 500 up 107 percent in three years. The government’s monthly tally of U.S. hiring missed the median projection by 85,000, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. While the S&P 500 averaged losses of 0.8 percent in the day after shortfalls of this magnitude since March 2009, the benchmark gauge cut its decline in half a week later and was up 0.9 percent after two weeks, the data show.

Most Tied

The Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index of stocks most tied to the economy slipped 1.9 percent for a fourth straight day of losses, the longest streak since Nov. 25, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The Dow Jones Transportation Average of airlines, trucking companies and shipping stocks lost 1.7 percent.

Economists forecast the U.S. economy expanded 2 percent in the first quarter, after growing 3 percent in the last three months of 2011, according to the average compiled by Bloomberg.

Industrial stocks fell 1.6 percent for the biggest drop as a group in the S&P 500. Caterpillar, the world’s largest construction and mining-equipment manufacturer, retreated 2.2 percent to $103.57, while General Electric, the maker of jet engines and power generation equipment, declined 1.5 percent to $19.20.

The KBW Bank Index dropped 1.9 percent, with all 24 of its components falling at least 0.9 percent. Bank of America lost 3.3 percent to $8.93, the biggest retreat in the Dow. Citigroup erased 2.4 percent to $33.97.

DuPont, Alcoa

Raw-material stocks had the third-biggest retreat in the S&P 500, falling 1.5 percent. DuPont Co., the most valuable U.S. chemical maker, slumped 1.4 percent to $51.95. Alcoa slipped 0.3 percent to $9.60. The largest U.S. aluminum producer is scheduled to disclose first-quarter results after the close of trading tomorrow, the first company in the Dow average to report. The average estimate of 19 analysts in a Bloomberg survey is for an adjusted loss of 4 cents a share.

Earnings for companies in the S&P 500 increased 0.8 percent last quarter, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg. They exceeded forecasts by 3.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 for the 12th straight period of better-than-estimated results, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Shutterfly Inc. sank 4.3 percent to $28.21. The operator of a website that offers photo-related products dropped after Facebook Inc. agreed to buy the Instagram photo-sharing application for about $1 billion.

800 Patents

AOL soared the most since at least November 2009, adding 43 percent to $26.40. The Internet company, under shareholder pressure to make strategic changes as revenue declines, agreed to sell and license more than 800 patents to Microsoft in a deal worth $1.06 billion. Microsoft fell 1.3 percent to $31.10.

Apple Inc. advanced 0.4 percent to $636.23. The world’s most valuable company erased an earlier decline of as much as 1.3 percent. The Cupertino, California-based company was cut to neutral from buy by BTIG LLC, which said investors should “take a breather” on expected strength this quarter.

Equities are failing to build on the S&P 500’s best first-quarter rally since 1998. The U.S. jobless rate fell to 8.2 percent, the lowest since January 2009, from 8.3 percent, the Labor Department said. Faster employment growth that leads to bigger wage gains is needed to propel consumer spending that accounts for about 70 percent of the economy. Americans worked fewer hours and earned less on average, helping explain why the Fed says interest rates may need to stay low at least through late 2014.

Near Zero

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has kept rates near zero since 2008 and expanded the central bank’s balance sheet with two rounds of asset purchases totaling $2.3 trillion. S&P 500 rallies during the first quarter of 2010 and 2011 stalled in April both years, with the index sinking as much as 16 percent and 19 percent, respectively, amid concern the Fed would stop stimulating the economy.

The S&P 500 surged 12 percent from January through March of this year as data on manufacturing, real estate and the labor market boosted optimism about the world’s largest economy. Reports last week showed manufacturing in the U.S. expanded at a faster pace than forecast while jobless claims dropped to the lowest level in four years.

Dennis Gartman, an economist and newsletter editor, said he abandoned his bullish view of stocks in March because of the possibility the market will retreat.

“The only things that I own at this point are a few shipping companies and a little natural gas, and I have those completely hedged with S&P futures,” Gartman, the editor of the Suffolk, Virginia-based Gartman Letter, said today in an interview on Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg Surveillance.”

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