NEW YORK — Stocks fell on Wall Street Friday after the government reported a sharp slowdown in hiring last month that was far worse than economists had expected.

The Dow Jones industrial average ended 40.86 points lower at 14,565.25, a loss of 0.3 percent. The index was down as much as 171 points in the early going, then rose gradually through the rest of the day to reclaim much of its early loss.

U.S. employers added just 88,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department reported. That’s half the average of the previous six months. The report was a disappointment for investors following positive signs on housing and the job market over the winter.

The survey, one of the most closely watched indicators of the economy, dented investors’ confidence that the U.S. was poised for a sustained recovery. The stock market has surged this year, pushing the Dow to another record high close on Tuesday. The index is still up 11.2 percent this year.

“Things are still looking decent, but there’s no doubt that this was a bit of a disappointment,” said Brad Sorensen, Charles Schwab’s director of market and sector research. “We’re watching to see: is this the start of another soft patch?”

In other trading, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 6.70 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,553.28. The index logged its worst week of year, falling 1 percent.

Technology stocks fell the most of the 10 industry groups in the index, dropping 1 percent. Among big decliners in tech stocks, Cisco Systems fell 43 cents, or 2 percent, to $20.61. Oracle dropped 34 cents, or 1 percent, to $32.03.

Utilities and telecommunications stocks bucked the trend, rising 0.4 percent.