Stocks quiet before Friday's jobs report

4chart_ws_index_dow.top.pngClick the chart for more market data. By Ken Sweet, contributing writer


NEW YORK(CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks quietly ended a turbulent, headline-filled first quarter on Thursday, with investors remaining in a holding pattern ahead of tomorrow's jobs report.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) fell 31 points, or 0.2%. Intel (INTC, Fortune 500) shares were among the biggest decliners on the Dow, falling 1.4% after analysts at FBR Capital cut their price target on the chipmaker.

The S&P 500 (SPX) fell 2.4 points, or 0.2%; and Nasdaq Composite (COMP) rose 4 points, or less than 0.2%.

U.S. stocks posted solid gains this quarter, despite three months of geopolitical turmoil in the Middle East, the March earthquake and nuclear crisis in Japan, and lingering concerns about the U.S. economy. The Dow rose 6.5%, the S&P 500 up 5.6% and the Nasdaq up 4.8% in the first three months of the year.

"You've had a very resilient market in light of the headline news this quarter," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist with Prudential Financial. "But this market has been enjoying very loose monetary policy, which has helped offset the geopolitical concerns."

Fund managers and traders said they don't expect the second quarter to be a repeat performance of the last three months, especially with the lingering geopolitical uncertainty.

"If I had known these headlines were going to cross this past quarter, I would have cashed out of the market and hid under my bed," said Jack Ablin, chief market strategist for Harris Private Bank. "It's remarkable how well this market has held up."

It was a mostly quiet session on Thursday, with traders focusing on the jobs market. The Labor Department said weekly jobless claims fell to 388,000 in the week ended March 26, which was slightly higher than what economists expected.

On Friday, the government will release the closely watched monthly jobs report. A CNNMoney survey of 18 economists forecasts a 180,000 jump in payrolls for March, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 8.9%.

Dick Del Bello, senior partner with hedge fund service provider Conifer Group, said investors are relatively optimistic about the job market, despite being frustrated with its slow recovery.

"I think the anticipation is that the job market is improving," he said. "It's slow, but it's improving. I think everyone would like to see it happen faster, but that's not going to happen."

U.S. stocks ended Wednesday with solid gains, after two upbeat reports on job growth.

Economy: The Chicago-area purchasing managers' index for March fell to a reading of 70.6, compared to February's reading of 71.2. Economists were looking for a reading of 68.9.

The Commerce Department said factory orders fell by 0.1% in February. Economists had expected a 0.4% rise.

Companies: Shares of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA, Fortune 500) fell 2% , after Buffett's heir apparent, David Sokol, quit. In a press release Wednesday, Buffett said the resignation was a "total surprise," but he also revealed that Sokol had purchased shares of Lubrizol (LZ, Fortune 500) before pushing him to buy the company in March for $9.7 billion.

Shares of defense contractor Northrup Grumman (NOC, Fortune 500) fell 9% after analysts at Citigroup cut their price target for the company.

World markets: European markets closed broadly lower following the stress test results in Ireland. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.7%, the DAX in Germany fell 0.2%, while France's CAC 40 slipped 0.9%.

Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite fell 0.9%, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong ticked up 0.3% and Japan's Nikkei added nearly 0.5%.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, in China for a meeting of G-20 finance ministers, said developing nations need flexible exchange rates to help absorb economic shocks. His comments came a day after criticism of U.S. monetary policy by a Chinese economist.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar fell against the euro and the Japanese yen, but was flat versus the British pound.

Oil for May delivery gained $2.36 to $106.63 a barrel.

Gold futures for June delivery rose $15.10 to $1,438.90 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rose slightly, pushing the yield down to 3.43% from 3.45% late Wednesday.  To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed4.28%4.30%
15 yr fixed3.24%3.18%
5/1 ARM3.41%3.53%
30 yr refi4.19%4.22%
15 yr refi3.18%3.12%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
 
Find personalized rates:
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 17,001.22 -38.27 -0.22%
Nasdaq 4,538.55 6.45 0.14%
S&P 500 1,988.40 -3.97 -0.20%
Treasuries 2.40 -0.00 -0.17%
Data as of 4:24pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.13 -0.03 -0.19%
Apple Inc 101.32 0.74 0.74%
Salesforce.com Inc 59.80 4.09 7.34%
General Electric Co 26.15 -0.28 -1.06%
Cisco Systems Inc 24.65 -0.24 -0.96%
Data as of 4:02pm ET

Sections

The Secret app is supposed to keep you anonymous. But until last week, it was possible to trace posts directly to you. More

Entrepreneurs are cashing in on the legal marijuana now available in the state. More

This month, Delaware became the first state to pass a law giving heirs the right to access the online accounts and assets of someone who has passed away. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.