Flat month ends strong quarter; stocks await Friday

The Dow dips 31 as investors don't commit much to the market before Friday's big jobs report. Gold hits a new high. Energy stocks move higher with oil prices. Corn and wheat prices jump. Berkshire Hathaway falls on Sokol resignation.

By Charley Blaine Mar 31, 2011 1:29PM
Charley BlaineUpdated: 5:30 p.m. ET

The stock market basically limped out of March. Commodities, however, were a different story. Gold hit a new closing high. Crude oil jumped to its highest close since September 2008.

Although there was a flurry of selling near the close, there was good reason for stocks to end quietly. Friday brings the Labor Department's report on March unemployment, easily the most important economic report of any month.

There are hopes that nonfarm payrolls will rise by 190,000 after a gain of 192,000 jobs in February, but the unemployment rate is expected to hold at 8.9%. A report on jobless claims today showed a modest decline. The Friday report will come out at 8:30 a.m. ET.

The Dow Jones industrials ($INDU) closed down 31 points to 12,320. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX) fell 2 points to 1,326. The Nasdaq Composite Index ($COMPX) was up 4 points to 2,781.

The Dow was off about 6 points at 3:35 p.m. ET when The Wall Street Journal reported that Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, said the Fed's benchmark federal funds rate might have to be raised to 1% by year's end if inflation pressures don't ease. That prompted a new wave of selling that pushed the major averages lower.

Article continues below.

Still, the losses for the Dow and the S&P 500 were modest -- less than 0.25%. The Nasdaq'sgain was just 0.15%.

Sizable gains for energy stocks, such as Schlumberger (SLB) and Rowan Companies (RDC), and a big gain for fertilizer maker CF Industries (CF) were offset by losses for Carmax (KMX), U.S. Steel (X) and CBS (CBS). Tech stocks overall were lower, thanks to weakness in Intel (INTC) and Research In Motion (RIMM).

Gold settled up $15, or 1.1% , at $1,439.90 an ounce, a new closing high. It had reached as high as $1,440, about $8 under its intraday high of $1,448.60 on March 24. (Editor's note: An earlier version of the post said that $1,440 was a new intraday high.)

Gold was up 1.8% for March and 1.3% for the quarter.

Crude oil was up $2.45, or 2.4%, to $106.72, its highest close since Sept. 26, 2008, when it finished at $106.89 a barrel. Crude surged on reports that troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi retook control of the oil port of Ras Lanuf and were shelling Brega, another energy hub.

Crude was up 10.1% for the month and 16.8% for the quarter. AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report put the national average price of gasoline at $3.606 a gallon, up from Wednesday's $3.595. The average rose 7.1% in March and 17.4% for the quarter. The average is just that. Gasoline is above $4 in major urban areas on the East and West coasts.

Agriculture prices surged on an Agriculture Department report that corn, soybean and wheat supplies were at their lowest levels since 2007. Wheat was up 4.7% to $7.6125 a bushel. Corn jumped 4.5% to $6.9325 a bushel.

At the same time, farmers expect to expand corn acreage to the second-highest level since 1944. That, in turn, means more demand for fertilizers. CF Industries was up 3.2% to $136.79. Potash of Saskatchewan (POT) added 1.3% to $58.93.

Energy prices -- New York close
 Thur.  Wed.  Month chg.  YTD chg.
Crude oil 

$106.72  $104.27  10.05%  16.79%
(per barrel)




Heating oil

$3.0898  $3.0396  4.94%  21.47%
(per gallon)




Natural gas 

$4.3890  $4.3550  8.42%  -0.36%
(per mil. BTU)




Unleaded gasoline




(per gallon)




Brent crude

$117.06  $115.13  4.80%  23.66%
(per barrel)

Retail gasoline




(per gallon; AAA)

Berkshire Hathaway falls on Sokol departure
Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B), down 2.1% to $83.63, was one of the 20 largest losers among S&P 500 stocks. The company announced late Wednesday David Sokol, one of CEO Warren Buffett's closest aides, had resigned.

The news was complicated by the disclosure that Sokol had put together a sizable position in Lubrizol (LZ), before pitching the company as an acquisition candidate to  Buffett. Berkshire is buying Lubrizol for about $9 billion. Sokol and Buffett insisted that Sokol did nothing wrong. 

Stocks had a flat finish for March
March finished with the major averages basically unchanged. The Dow had a 0.8% gain for the month. The S&P 500 was off 0.1%. The Nasdaq is off slightly.

The S&P 500's 5.4% gain was its best first-quarter performance since 1998. The Dow's 6.41% gain was its best since the first quarter of 1999. The Nasdaq finished up 4.8%. 

The quarterly gains are the seventh in eight quarters.

That said, only nine  of the 30 Dow stocks were higher today, led by 3M (MMM), up 1.1% to $93.50, and Coca-Cola (KO), up 0.5% to $66.34.

American Express (AXP), down 1.6% to $45.20, and Intel, down 1.4% to $20.18, were the Dow laggards. Intel was also among the weakest stocks in the Nasdaq-100 Index ($NDX.X).

Sixty-three Nasdaq-100 stocks were higher today, led by First Solar (FSLR), up 3.5% to $160.84. Apple was down slightly at $348.51. The index was up 2 points to 2,339.

Leaders and laggards
Bombardier (BDRBF), up 12.5% to $7.31. The world’s third-largest planemaker said quarterly profit rose 80%, more than analysts estimated, as it won business-jet orders and cleared out inventory that had built up during the recession.

Carmax, down 7.2% to $32.10. The largest U.S. seller of used cars said gross margin for the fourth quarter fell to 14.2% from 14.5% in the year-ago period.

Dendreon (DNDN), up 5.3% to $37.43. The company’s prostate cancer drug Provenge should be covered by the U.S. government for use in older men, regulators said. The $93,000 drug regimen is reasonable and necessary for men with advanced, castrate-resistant prostate tumors who have minimal or no symptoms of the disease, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said.

Tesla Motors (TSLA), up 17% to $27.75, tops among stocks in the Russell 1000 Index. The U.S. electric carmaker was raised to "overweight" from "equal-weight" by Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas, who initiated a price target of $70.

U.S. Steel (X) down 4.2% to $53.94. The steel maker was added to Deutsche Bank's short- term sell list.

Las Vegas Sands (LVS), down 2.9% to $42.22. Sands China Ltd., controlled by billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s casino company, said it’s being investigated by the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission for alleged breaches of regulations.

Short hits from the markets -- New York close
 Thur.  Wed.

Month chg.

YTD chg.
Treasury yields


13-week Treasury bill




5-year Treasury note 




10-year Treasury note




30-year Treasury bond





U.S. Dollar Index




British pound




(in U.S. $)

U.S. $ in pounds




Euro in dollars




(in U.S. $)

U.S. $ in euros

€ 0.706

€ 0.708


U.S. $ in yen 




U.S. $ in Chinese





Canada dollar




(in U.S. $)

U.S. dollar 




(in Canadian $)









(per troy ounce)







(per pound)





(per troy ounce)





(per bushel)





(per bushel)


$2.0023  $1.9367  -2.39%  38.27%
(per pound)

Crude oil 




(per barrel)

Mar 31, 2011 1:52PM
Unemployment rate at 8.9 that's  B.S   Try 12.9    Friday job report more lies to manipulate investors in the market !! GOD BLESS AMERICA !
Mar 31, 2011 2:56PM
WTF does Obama do all day? If he's not on vacation he is throwing a party on us, the  taxpayers dimes. Obama  cannot relate to his fellow Americans. Obama views us as his personal assistants and looks down on almost everyone as inferior.

Obama had the opportunity to do great things but like every politician be it Dem or Rep the only people they need to serve are those big money folks who put them in office. However someday they will have to pay the piper. The young generation do not look at the government as we older crowd do.

They will rise up and bite the hand of those who think they feed them.

Mar 31, 2011 2:24PM
When is the insanity on Wall Street going to end? This country is swimming in oil, yet these bastards keep moving it higher everyday. When is our government going to get off their arses and do something about it. This Libya thing is nothing more then BS for them to use to raise prices. We need to cut back on consumer spending and put these pigs in their rightful place.
Ok Folks three things to consider here.

First Obama's plan to reduce our oil imports by 1/3 is going to be achieved through the hiking of the price of gas to $8 a gallon a minor detail he did not disclose. (This is an SEC violation right?) He was over heard as saying what is good for Europe is good for the USA. 

Second the Federal Reserve has given was warning that they are about to pull back the money they put into the economy (e.g. the stock market and Wall Street Bankers) and ready to raise interest rates to fight inflation expect Fed rate to hit 5 percent in two years time folks.

Third with Chinese winter wheat , Russian winter wheat , Australian summer wheat crops having failed , Brazil having a bad crop also along with Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans not eating nuclear fish off the Japanese coastline expect food prices to double by summer easy. 

Inflation is about to get as bad as it was during the 1980's so everyone get ready for banks offering CD's at two digit interest rates next year or so.
Mar 31, 2011 1:46PM
Americans struggle with the "tiny" amount of truth Wall Street gives us on any given day...so I guess we are both struggling then huh?
Mar 31, 2011 5:00PM
Stop consuming We the American Middle Class! Stop paying your mortgages and credit cards! See what the smart bastards of the CBC Criminal Banking Cartel do when 10 million americans stop paying? What are they going to do throw us all out in the streets put us in Jail? The fact is when we stop paying and consuming they fall apart!
Mar 31, 2011 4:07PM
Just Enter..........One more thing to consider.. Any alternative fuel that may become available will sure as hell be manipulated the same as oil is. If they can do it for oil they will do it to any other dependent fuel.  Even to the point that we will be worse off than we are now.
Mar 31, 2011 5:21PM
They call it depression times. i WOULD CALL IT THE GREAT DISTORTION TIME. Reality is that the markets are controled by money being transfered from one account to another. As corporation still bank over90% of the bailout money that was spent by taxpayers to fuel the economy. Ounce the corporations have the money they now figure its to risky to spend any of it at this time. I also have a problem with the government releasing false figures that we have substantial job growth. What better way to ease society then to make statements that relate to economical growth. The government is broke, the states are broke, Foreign countries are broke. So much unrest in the world that no one knows what we are in store for tomorrow. The idea that reporters are not relating true issues is very sick. All you need to do is dial in and add it all up and the results is the world is very much being challenged. I cant even think of a reason the insert prosperity and comforting growth. Stop the lies! Current students know that phrase very well. JTT> just the truth<  works for everyone.
Mar 31, 2011 3:48PM
Well, at exactly 1545 hrs these scumbags called for the selling to accelerate....Will be a tough 15 minutes to keep this thing in the green...Oh well, plenty of crooks on and off the floor; we figured they would do their thing sooner or later.
Mar 31, 2011 5:13PM

Obama has very little to do with the price of oil.  Do you really think he wants gas to rise to $8, or even $5.  It would kill his re-election chances.  The primary cause of the recent run-up in oil prices is speculation.  With so much fear and uncertainty in the ME/NA countries, speculators have had a field day driving up prices.  When they decide it's time to bail, they will short oil futures and make money all the way back down. 

Apr 1, 2011 12:11AM

Sleeping half-moon


Breathe deep the gathering market gloom
Watch hopes fade in every trading room
Over-invested people look back and lament
Another day's useless trading energy is spent
Impassioned bears go short as one
Lonely bulls cry for a bottom and have none
Mother picks up and cradles her now bankrupt son
Seniors now broke wish they were young

Cold-hearted stock market that rules the night
Removes all of our hard-earned cash from our sight
Red are our eyes and our knuckles white
But we never can seem to get it right
And keep on believing in the wall street illusion

Oh well it isn't dark side of the moon, but the moody blues were cool too.


: )

Mar 31, 2011 9:55PM

Sick  i don't know why i play these silly games ... ok, i watched it and almost puked on my keyboard.  this is sensationalist spin garbage bought and paid for by republican donors, the largest of which is the Koch Family Foundation.  do you send any of these people money to feed you this stuff?


why oh why oh why will you not look at freedomworks wikipedia and learn about the **** you are being fed by the republican spin-meisters?  why will you not look to mainstream media for some balanced information?  these guys (the 2%) control over 90% of the wealth and they want all of it at YOUR expense!!!


we are in debt over $70,000,000,000,000.00 (70 trillion) and where do you think all of that money went?  into thin air?  it goes to create this mounting army of billionaires.  are they moral?  i guess you are too busy watching fox to learn about how sokol and buffett were caught (again) front-running stock deals - these billionaires want it ALL! 


i don't know why i bother as i know you tea party core faithful all too well.  white, middle-aged, high-school education, male, mostly southern, and usually totally brain-washed into supporting people who continue to keep them enslaved and in debt while running up the national debt higher and higher to enrich themselves.






this type of propaganda and brain-washing of Americans makes me physically ill.  Sick


p.s. no personal attack is intended here - just a general opinion.  remember - you asked.


p.p.s. this is tough for me too, since i admire and support many of the tea party goals such as spending reductions and smaller government - i just want the supporters to understand the greater evil at work here and start thinking about ousting the entrenched GOP lifers.


p.p.p.s.  it will NOT kill you or cause you to smoke pot if you watch some Hardball with chris mathews, or some msnbc, or some comedy central or if you surf wikipedia.

Mar 31, 2011 5:40PM

NEWS FLASH ... Lightning   ... THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!


The Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department quietly have taken the first tangible steps to raising interest rates, according to bond manager Dave Pequet.

With little fanfare, the Treasury Department announced March 18 that it would start selling a $142 billion portfolio of mortgage-backed securities acquired during the financial crisis.

On March 23, the Federal Reserve, which owns about $944 billion of mortgage-backed instruments, announced it would start a new, “gradually expanding” round of small reverse-repurchase transactions, said Mr. Pequet, president of MPI Investment Management Inc.

Reverse repos are designed to take cash out of the banking system and raise rates, said Mr. Pequet, whose firm manages about $300 million in fixed-income and balanced strategies for small institutional customers. Its bond portfolios have high-quality paper with an average duration of just under three years.

The Fed's moves were the "first two concrete actions that are tightening in nature," he said. "It's the first time we've gone from rhetoric and speculation [about tightening] to actual physical acts."

But the announcements produced no major headlines, nor much in the way of follow-up from the TV "talking heads," Mr. Pequet said.

Investors and the press tend to focus on the federal funds rate, which probably won't increase for another six to 12 months, he said.

Meanwhile, the Fed plans in June to end its second quantitative easing program, which may end up short of its goal of buying $600 billion in bonds, Mr. Pequet said.

The program's end means "$100 billion a month on the buy side will go away," he said. That amounts to about 70% of the demand for U.S. Treasuries.

"I think the trend is pretty clear," Mr. Pequet said. "The [bond] market is already showing some pretty significant [rate] increases" since QE2 was announced in mid-November.

"I think we'll see continued pressure on rates to jump higher," he said.

At least Mr. Pequet hopes so.

"I've never worked so hard in my life" trying to get clients some yield, he said.

Apr 1, 2011 1:15AM

one thing will become clear as time goes by: bernanke is a genius.  economic genius is defined by someone willing to take unpopular and misunderstood action over the short-term to accomplish a greater-good in the long-term.  he is a genius.

Apr 1, 2011 7:05AM

ActiveRIA, given that the FED must sson start raising rates, do you think Ben will make the same mistake as in the past and raise them too quickly?   Would he not better stating his goal say 1% by the end of 2011 and 2% by the end of 2012?   At say 25 BP every quarter?  Giving the market a plan and also some stability of a gradual increase? 



Apr 1, 2011 12:44AM

Thinking  everything we post here is on-topic al.  and by the way you never would have hit my cutter - always down and away.


one thing will become clear as time goes by: bernanke is a genius.  economic genius is defined by someone willing to take unpopular and misunderstood action over the short-term to accomplish a greater-good in the long-term.  he is a genius.


timmy g, well you got me there, he is former goldman sachs, tight with hank paulson and still has a nervous tick from lying his way through the credit crisis.  he must have had the goods on a few people to be kept around.


obama ate crow on national tv after the new wave of republicans were swept in and has been dancing a billy bob clinton two-step towards the middle.  the guy will end up as a moderate by 2012 and if the economy keeps improving in spite of efforts by a certain party of no, well then he could be a force in 2012.  $5 billion is pocket change compared to what is at stake in the middle east and preventing the dominoes from tumbling over too fast.


yes, these are presidential appointees and you will need to get someone really excellent thru the primaries to get the midwest, moderate, centrist vote.  better give us romney (maybe christie, not paul, not trump) or the like or it will be four more years.


by the by, you do know that it was your buddy bush sr. who first appointed the bernank don't you?  so, if you are looking for someone to blame .....


you asked ......

Mar 31, 2011 11:51PM
Flat month ends strong quarter;...we ALL await more LIES Friday...
Mar 31, 2011 7:00PM

did you watch the video active.....if so, your thought's?

Mar 31, 2011 10:14PM

bizown- "If a mall developer has 40% of their mall vacant and the cash flow from the mall is insufficient to service the loan, the bank would normally need to set aside reserves for the entire loan. Under the new guidelines they could carve the loan into two pieces, with 60% that is covered by cash flow as a good loan and the 40% without sufficient cash flow would be classified as non-performing. "


Yes,he can.  It's called "Troubled Debt Restructure", or just TDR.  His bankster can restructure the loan into two loans (imaginatively referred to as Note A and Note B).  Banksters have had this option under banking Regs for 18 months or so.  But it's not so sweet for the banksters.


If you can support doing a TDR, the first thing you're required to do is to charge Note B off, completely.  When you take that charge off, you wipe it off of your books as an active loan and the related Note A will be Risk Rated Substandard for as long as it's on the banksters' books.


TDRs get much ore attention from bank regulators, often require a higher Loan Loss Reserve, have more frequent review requirements and are generally a pain in the ****.  Due to their obvious downside, no bankster is quick to do TDRs.  It's a practice of last recourse.


It's a way to work with a struggling Borrower who is underwater on their cash flows to try to save their real estate.  Banksters have to separately report on TDRs to their regulators.  So most self-respecting banksters might rather get that root canal before they'd do that TDR. 


2-sick referred to an article here weeks ago on TDRs and I was too busy to respond then.  It was month's end, Quarter end today.  Wild day, absolutely zoomed by.  Enjoy your day.

Mar 31, 2011 6:50PM

I don't know hey dunnster, try googling on lou dobbs and the nickname for someone named richard and see what you come up with.  you will find out why even moderate centrists will not watch whatever it is that you are selling.


'nuff said.  Sick



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[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market ended the Tuesday session on a lower note after generally upbeat earnings took the back seat to geopolitical concerns. The S&P 500 (-0.5%) and Nasdaq Composite (-0.1%) ended on their lows, while the Russell 2000 (+0.3%) displayed relative strength.

Once again, market participants were focused on quarterly reports in the early going, but geopolitical worries overshadowed the impact of mostly better than expected earnings. Specifically, equities ... More


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