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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Stocks rise extending best start since 1998 now 2012

Rising consumer spending boosted stocks on Friday, and Wall Street closed its best first quarter since 1998.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 66.22 points to close at 13,212.04. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.19 points to close at 1,408.47. The Nasdaq composite barely moved, falling 3.79 points to close at 3,091.57.
The bulls weren't bullish enough.

The stock market just had its best first quarter in 14 years. The surge has sent Wall Street analysts, some of whose forecasts seemed too sunny three months ago, scrambling to raise their estimates for the year.

"That it's up isn't surprising. It's the magnitude," says Robert Doll, the chief equity investment manager at BlackRock, the world's biggest money manager.
For the quarter, the Dow posted an 8 percent gain and the S&P a 12 percent gain, the best for those indexes in 14 years. The gain was 19 percent for the Nasdaq, its best since 1991.

Oil prices rose again on Friday, up 23 cents in New York to $103.02 per barrel.

Nine out of 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 rose. The biggest-gaining category was energy stocks, although refiners fell because of the higher oil prices. Health care stocks rose, too, with two of the biggest gainers being health insurers UnitedHealth Group Inc. and WellPoint Inc. Technology stocks fell slightly. Barry Knapp, head U.S. equity strategist at Barclays Capital, said he’s bullish on technology stocks but the rest of the market has “overshot the fundamentals.” He said he’s sticking with his target for the S&P this year: 1,330, which would be a drop of about 6 percent from Friday’s close.

Other skeptics of the surge point to the role of central banks around the world in lifting markets by printing money, lending at near-zero rates, and buying bonds and other securities.

The fear is that once that support is removed, stock prices could fall, and all the talk about profits could prove beside the point.

In every case since the market hit a 12-year low in March 2009, prices jumped on the Fed moves, then fell when the Fed programs ended. A question above the chart asked whether it was time to move more money into stocks.

Michael Hartnett, chief global equity strategist at Bank of America, said no. The bank expects the S&P to end the year at 1,400, almost exactly where it is now.


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