NEW YORK - US stocks fell slightly on Friday in a volatile session as concerns about slowing growth offset optimism that the Federal Reserve will pause its rate-increase cycle at its meeting next week.

Apple Computer Inc. shares were the biggest drag on the Nasdaq 100 and pulled the technology sector down after the company said it will likely have to restate earnings.

The blue-chip Dow rallied in the morning after the government's report showed weaker-than-expected July job growth, increasing expectations that the Fed's policy-makers will refrain from raising rates again next week. Still, the soft reading on labour markets may also signal a slowdown in consumer spending and the outlook for corporate profits, traders said.

"The first instinct after looking to the report was the Fed will pause and that got everyone fired up a bit," said Warren Simpson, managing director of Stephens Capital Management in Little Rock. "But then when you look at it and the fact less jobs are being created than anticipated, I think everyone sobered up -- and thought maybe it's not that good for the economy."

The Dow Jones industrial average declined 2.24 points, or 0.02 per cent, to end at 11,240.35. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index dipped 0.91 of a point, or 0.07 per cent, to finish at 1,279.36. The Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 7.29 points, or 0.35 per cent, to close at 2,085.05.

For the week, the Dow gained 0.18 per cent and the S&P 500 edged up 0.06 per cent, while the Nasdaq fell 0.43 per cent.

The Dow's two biggest decliners were JPMorgan Chase & Co., which fell 1.2 per cent, or 54 cents, to US$45.12, and McDonald's Corp., which shed 1.2 per cent, or 43 cents, to US$35.41, in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

US employers added 113,000 workers to their payrolls in July, the Labor Department said before Wall Street's opening bell. That was far short of the expected growth of 142,000 jobs in July, forecast by economists surveyed in a Reuters poll. In another sign of the labor market weakening, the unemployment rate jumped unexpectedly to 4.8 per cent in July from 4.6 per cent in June.

On the Nasdaq, Apple fell 1.9 per cent, or US$1.29, to US$68.30 a day after the maker of the iPod digital music player said it will likely restate earnings because of irregularities in accounting for stock options.

"Apple really pushed the Nasdaq and many good stocks in the tech sector down," said Kevin Kruszenski, head of listed trading at KeyBanc Capital Markets in Cleveland, Ohio.

Other heavy decliners on Nasdaq included Amgen Inc. and Career Education Corp.

Amgen's stock dropped 3 per cent, or US$2.13, to US$68.79 following a court ruling that may weaken the biotechnology company's position in its bid to fend off a rival to its anemia drug Epogen.

Career Education shares lost 29.3 per cent, or US$8.08, to US$19.50 on Nasdaq after the for-profit education company reported a net loss for the second quarter.

Shares of Career Education's rival, Apollo Group, slid 2.7 per cent, or US$1.21, to US$44.14 on Nasdaq.

Trading was active on the NYSE, with about 1.72 billion shares changing hands, above last year's average of 1.61 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 1.88 billion shares traded, above last year's daily average of 1.80 billion.

Despite Friday's lower finish for the three major US stock indexes, advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones by a ratio of about 9 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange.

On Nasdaq, though, the trend was reversed, with about four stocks falling for every three that rose.

(Additional reporting by Chris Sanders)

- REUTERS