Stocks set to pull back

By CNNMoney.com staff


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- U.S. stocks were poised to take a small step back Wednesday, the final day of a first quarter bolstered by a strong month of March, as a disappointing report on the job market failed to lift investor confidence.

Dow Jones industrial average, S&P 500, and Nasdaq 100 futures were slightly lower.

Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance and offer an indication of how markets may open when trading begins.

Stocks ended a little higher Tuesday, pushing the Dow to a fresh 18-month high as investors digested mixed reports showing a rise in consumer confidence and continued weakness in the housing market.

Wall Street will reach the end of what has been a fairly solid March. Going into the final session, the Dow is up 5.7% this month, giving the index a 4.5% gain for the quarter.

Economy: ADP released its monthly report on employment before the opening bell, showing that private-sector employers cut 23,000 jobs in March. This was in sharp contrast to expectations of a 40,000 job increase, according to economists surveyed by Briefing.com. This is after cutting a revised 20,000 in February.

ADP has not reported an increase in monthly payroll numbers since January 2008, when 34,000 private-sector jobs were added.

The Chicago PMI, a regional reading on manufacturing, is due at 9:45 a.m. ET. Economists predict the index fell to a reading of 61 in March from 62.6 in February.

Research in Motion (RIMM) reports quarterly earnings after the close of trade. The BlackBerry maker is expected to have earned $1.28 per share versus 90 cents a year earlier.

World markets: Asian stocks finished lower. In Japan, the Nikkei index lost 0.1%, and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong slipped 0.6%.

In Europe, London's FTSE 100, France's CAC 40 and Germany's DAX all advanced.

The dollar and commodities: The dollar retreated against the pound but rose against the euro and the yen.

U.S. light crude oil for May delivery rose 52 cents to $82.89 a barrel. The price of gold for June delivery added $5.40 an ounce to $1,110.50.

Bonds: Treasury prices were little changed, with the 10-year yield holding at around 3.87%. To top of page

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