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Hiring slowdown, European fears result in bad week for stock market

Stocks plunged Friday after the government reported that hiring slowed sharply last month. The report confirmed investors' fears that the U.S. economic recovery is faltering.

The losses in the market were widespread. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 168 points and the Nasdaq composite had its worst day since Nov. 9. Both the Nasdaq and the Standard & Poor's 500 index closed out their worst weeks of the year. The Dow had its second-worst.

The dollar and U.S. Treasury prices rose as investors dumped risky assets and moved money into lower-risk investments. Energy stocks were among the hardest hit after the price of oil fell below $100 a barrel for the first time since February. Only one of the 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 rose, utilities, which investors tend to buy when they're nervous about the economy.

It was the third straight daily loss for the Dow, but it's too early to know if it's the start of a correction in the market. Even after its 1.4 percent decline this week, the Dow is still up 6.7 percent this year.

Investors are on edge about Europe once again as France and Greece both hold elections over the weekend. In France, socialist candidate Francois Hollande has a chance to unseat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been at the forefront of fashioning Europe's efforts to prevent its shared currency from collapsing.

Crude oil plunged $4 to $98.49 a barrel on worries that demand would drop because of a weakening world economy. It was the first time oil has dropped below $100 since Feb. 13.

The late slump in the week was a stark contrast to Monday, when the Dow closed at its highest level more than four years, propelled by a report that showed a pickup in manufacturing. All that become a distant memory after a slew of poor economic reports were released in the rest of the week.

On Thursday, major retailers including Costco and Macy's reported that April sales inched up less than 1 percent, the worst performance since 2009. Thursday also brought news that U.S. service companies expanded their business more slowly in April.

The Dow closed down 168.32 points, or 1.3 percent, at 13,038. All 30 companies that make up the index fell, led by Bank of America and Cisco.

The S&P 500 slipped 22.47 points, or 1.6 percent, to 1,369, while the Nasdaq index fell 67.96 points, or 2.2 percent, to 2,956.

For the week, the S&P lost 2.4 percent, the Nasdaq 3.7 percent.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note dropped sharply to 1.88 percent from 1.92 percent late Thursday as demand increased for safe investments. The yield hasn't settled that low since early February.