raders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange © Henny Ray Abrams, AP

March is supposed to come in like a lion and leave like a lamb. If only investors get that lucky.

I think the last few days of February are a preview for what we can expect in March. My calendar of potentially market-moving events reaches a climax on March 27, with a potential shutdown of the federal government.

I don't know that the net move in the markets will be very large for March. But I'd be very surprised if we don't see breathtaking volatility -- confidence-sapping and can't-sleep-at-night ups and downs -- for March. Here's a look at what's on the volatility calendar and how to get ready.

The ups and downs

How much volatility is in store? Consider the end of February a preview:

Monday, Feb. 25:Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU) down 214 points and the Standard & Poor's 500 ($INX) down 1.8% in its worst drubbing since Nov. 7.

Tuesday, Feb. 26: Dow Industrial Average climbs 116 points.

Wednesday, Feb. 27: Dow up 174 points.

Jim Jubak

Jim Jubak

Total swing: From Dow 14,001 to 13,874 to 14,075, for a journey of 504 points in three days. Net move, 74 points.

Why do I see so much volatility ahead for March? For the same reason that February finished with such a flourish.

The news calendar for March is full of the kind of trend-making and trend-breaking uncertainty that is likely to drive stocks up one day and down the next.

The prototype event from the end of February is the Italian election, which encouraged directional bets on the euro and then confounded those bets while whiplashing the yen, Tokyo and other markets, and commodity prices. Gold up $20 an ounce on Feb. 26, then down $20 an ounce on Feb. 27? That's directionless volatility at its best -- or worst.

The volatile events of March

My volatility event calendar actually began with the Feb. 28 release of the second estimate for fourth-quarter growth in the U.S. gross domestic product. The last estimate showed growth dipping slightly, with a 0.1% decline. The consensus going into the news was that changes in estimated data for things such as imports and inventories would push the figure slightly positive, and they did, at a slim 0.1%. The number is clearly important for the debate over how badly the battles over the fiscal cliff and the sequester had hurt U.S. growth.

March 1: The start of the sequester. These automatic federal budget cuts -- about $85 billion for 2013 -- will gradually take effect starting now. Estimates by the Congressional Budget Office are that the cuts will cost the economy 750,000 jobs. I expect that the beginning of the sequester will make the financial markets more nervous but that actual volatility will wait for numbers such as the weekly initial claims for unemployment, the monthly jobs numbers, or the monthly and quarterly retail sales figures from companies such as Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) and Target (TGT) to show the effects of the cuts on the economy.

March 7: This is the date of the first meeting of the European Central Bank after Italy's elections. The markets will expect Mario Draghi to say something calming about the central bank's will to defend the euro (and Italian and Spanish debt markets). Some investors also will be looking to see a cut in the bank's 0.75% benchmark interest rate. If the Italian postelection search for a government has turned into a circus by then, I'd expect European stock markets and the euro to be disappointed if the bank doesn't cut rates.

Don't underestimate the central bank president's ability to talk up financial markets -- as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke did this week. Draghi's March 7 press conference will be a major test of the continuing power of his words.

March 15: Italy's newly elected parliament finally will meet to begin the process of picking a new prime minister.

March 20: Italian president Giorgio Napolitano will invite Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the coalition that garnered the most votes in the election, to try to form a new government. If Bersani can't, Napolitano will gradually work his way down the list until he either finds a solution or declares that he can't find one. There's obviously a good chance that the search for a new prime minister will unsettle financial markets -- and, of course, there's the outside chance that Napolitano will actually find a way to form a government, which would cause a huge rally in the euro, eurozone stocks and Italian debt.

March 20: The Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee will end its meeting with a press conference. No one expects that the Fed will change interest rates, but everyone will be parsing the Fed's words for clues on the timetable for ending the central bank's most recent round of quantitative easing. If ever words move markets, this is the occasion.

March 27: The continuing resolution that funds the U.S. government expires. In the absence of a new, continuing resolution or passage of a budget (virtually no chance of that) the government will run out of money and all nonessential -- and some essential -- services will shut down. This is actually a much bigger deal than the sequester, although not -- at least from the perspective of global financial markets -- as big a deal as the debt ceiling battle. A failure to raise the debt ceiling could have led to a default by the U.S. government on its debt. The next debt ceiling crisis doesn't come until May 18.

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