Midday Market Update: Stocks Slightly Up on Last Day of Quarter

By Jennifer Yousfi
Managing Editor

On the final day of the first quarter, stocks headed slightly higher on the back of higher energy prices.

“The worst quarter since the first half of 2002 will be in the books at the close today, and not a day too soon,” Paul Nolte, director of investments at Hinsdale Associates, told MarketWatch.

At midday, the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average Index had posted a slight gain of 39.16 points (0.32%), to trade at 12,255.56. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index increased 9.98 points (0.44%), to reach 2,271.16. And the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 6.51 points (0.49%), to hit 1,321.73.

Sectors were mixed with the energy sector (0.77%), and the conglomerates sector (0.67%), posting the largest gains. The consumer non-cyclical sector had the biggest decline (-6.93%).

Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Chevron Corp. (CVX) received a boost from climbing natural gas prices and continued high oil prices, with futures hovering around $106 a barrel.

In overseas markets, Japan’s Nikkei Index dropped 2.3%, shedding 294.93 points to close at 12,525.54, closing the worst quarter for the index since 2001.

“We had window dressing last week that perhaps got a bit overheated, leading to today’s slide as investors tried to lock in profits,” Hiroaki Osakabe, referring to investor buying to boost portfolio profits ahead of Japan’s fiscal year-end, told Reuters.

Hong Kong’s blue-chip Hang Seng Index lost 436.75 points, a decline of 1.9%, to close at 22,849.20 to mark the index’s worst quarterly performance in six years. But traders were optimistic about the start of the new quarter as activity for the Beijing Games begins to ramp up.

“The market is expected to be more stable in the upcoming quarter, with buying interest likely to be fuelled ahead of the Beijing Olympics,” Patrick Yiu, an associate director at CASH Asset Management, told Reuters.

“But the underlying tone for the market may still be weak because an uptrend has not been confirmed,” Yiu said.

In Europe, the Paris-based CAC40, London’s FTSE 100, Madrid’s IBEX 35 and the Frankfurt-based DAX all posted declines.

At midday, the dollar had lost ground against the euro (down 0.618%), but gained ground against the yen (up 0.272%) and the pound sterling (up 0.116%).

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