Tech gains help US stocks end a rocky quarter with a bang

By ALEX VEIGA

AP Business Writer

Technology and consumer-focused stocks soared Thursday as Wall Street ended its most volatile quarter in more than two years with a broad-based rally.

Banks and industrial stocks also lifted the market and recent laggards such as Facebook and Boeing rose. Even so, the solid gains, which came at the end of a holiday-shortened week, couldn’t prevent the stock market’s first quarterly loss since the third quarter of 2015.

After two years of slow-and-steady growth the market started 2018 with a roar. Then the market plunged in early February, marking its first 10 percent drop in two years, as investors worried the Federal Reserve would accelerate the pace of interest rate increases. In the weeks since, the market has remained volatile and trading has frequently turned choppy, with concerns over trade disputes a key factor.

At the end of a quarter that featured many dramatic swings — the market had 23 days where it closed up or down 1 percent or more — the Dow Jones industrials were down 2.5 percent while the S&P 500 was down 1.2 percent.

Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, said the market’s first-quarter performance has tempered expectations for the rest of the year after the strong start in January.

“Volatility has ramped up, inflationary pressures are more prevalent, interest rates are on the cusp of change, so that presents a higher level of uncertainty and higher investor angst,” Sandven said.

That angst was tempered on Thursday. The S&P 500 rose 35.87 points, or 1.4 percent, to 2,640.87. The Dow gained 254.69 points, or 1.1 percent, to 24,103.11. The blue chip average was briefly up 465 points. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 16.40 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1,529.43.

The Nasdaq added 114.22 points, or 1.6 percent, to 7,063.44 and closed the quarter with a gain of 2.3 percent.

The major indexes were headed higher from the start of trading Thursday as investors sized up several company earnings reports and new government data showing that spending by U.S. consumers rose 0.2 percent in February, while their incomes increased 0.4 percent. The healthy income gains could spur more spending in the coming months.

Technology stocks, which were big decliners earlier in the week, powered much of the market’s climb Thursday.

Facebook was among the gainers, its shares adding 4.4 percent. The social media giant, which has taken a beating in recent days over privacy concerns, rose $6.76 percent, to $159.79.

Even with the roller-coaster ride that technology stocks have been on lately, the sector is up 3.2 percent this year, while most other sectors are in the red.

Thursday’s run-up in technology stocks signaled that investors believe the sector was oversold in recent weeks, said Sandven, adding that perhaps some of it can be explained by fund managers padding portfolios with stocks to elevate their quarter-end results, what Wall Street calls “window-dressing.”

Shares in several companies that reported improved quarterly earnings or outlooks got a boost.

PVH, which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, climbed $7.41, or 5.1 percent, to $151.43, while beverage maker Constellation Brands rose $7.43, or 3.4 percent, to $222.92.

Solid results and a better-than-expected outlook also gave Movado Group shares a lift. The watchmaker’s stock jumped $5.20, or 15.7 percent, to $38.40.

Some companies had a rough day, even after delivering strong quarterly results.

Gamestop slumped 10.8 percent after the retailer issued a disappointing full-year revenue and earnings outlook, which overshadowed fourth-quarter results that beat Wall Street’s expectations. The stock slid $1.53 to $12.62.

The fallout from the heightened scrutiny on how social media portals use consumers’ personal data weighed on Acxiom shares. The marketing data firm’s stock tumbled 19 percent after it disclosed that Facebook would cease using third-party data providers like Acxiom over the next several months.

Acxiom said it doesn’t expect the move to affect its fiscal 2018 guidance, but noted it expects its total revenue and profitability to be negatively affected by as much as $25 million. Acxiom declined $5.34 to $22.71.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.74 percent from 2.78 percent late Wednesday.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 56 cents to $64.94 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 74 cents to $70.27 per barrel in London.

In other energy futures trading, heating oil gained 1 cent to $2.03 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline rose a penny to $2.02 a gallon. Natural gas added 4 cents to $2.73 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The dollar fell to 106.50 yen from 106.88 yen on Wednesday. The euro weakened to $1.2306 from $1.2313.

Gold fell $1.40 to $1,322.80 an ounce. Silver rose 2 cents to $16.27 an ounce. Copper added 2 cents to $3.03 a pound.

Germany’s DAX added 1.3 percent and France’s CAC 40 gained 0.7 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.2 percent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.6 percent. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.7 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.2 percent.

U.S. stock markets will be closed for the Good Friday holiday.

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