Market Update & Important Indicators:
The S&P 500 posted its biggest quarterly gain since 2015, lifted by a brightening economic outlook and rising confidence among businesses and consumers. Stocks extended their post-election climb in the first three months of the year, adding to fourth-quarter gains. A growing uncertainty over whether the Trump administration can enact a pro-business economic agenda hurt sections of what had been known as the Trump trade, financial stocks and industrial companies. Investors instead turned to companies that grow with the economy, such as large technology and internet companies. That uncertainty was exacerbated in March during the struggle by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to pass a health-care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. In March, financial company stocks in the S&P 500 declined 2.9%, and industrial companies declined 0.8%. Tech stocks in the S&P 500 have jumped 12% in the first three months of the year, by far the best performers in the index during that period. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 65 points, or 0.3%, to 20663. The S&P 500 slipped 0.2%, while the Nasdaq Composite fell less than 0.1%. Bucking the trend was the U.S. gold price which rose 0.5% at 1,249.20 US$/oz.
European stocks ended a volatile trading session mostly higher, with the Stoxx Europe 600 index logging a third quarter of gains. After a late session push, the pan-European index closed 0.2% higher at 381.14, extending its weekly gain to 1.2%. For the quarter, which came to an end on Friday, the index scored a 5.5% gain, its biggest quarterly advance since March 2015. Friday's choppy session came after the closely watched flash estimate for March inflation showed consumer prices grew 1.5% in the Eurozone, down from 2% in February. Analysts had expected a reading of 1.8%.
In Asia, the Shanghai Composite rose 0.4% as data Friday showed China's official manufacturing PMI for March came in a bit better than expected. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index ended the quarter 9.6% higher despite a wobble on Friday. Markets across Asia were broadly lower on the final trading day of the quarter, however. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index was down 0.8%. Japanese stocks began higher but suffered a late-session selloff that left the Nikkei Stock Average down 0.8% for the day and off 1.1% for the first quarter.
Australian shares snapped a four-day winning streak on Friday, as traders rebalanced positions at the end of the first quarter and banks struggled for momentum after being dealt a double blow by regulators. The S&P/ASX 200 closed down 0.5% or 31.3 points at 5864.9, having repeatedly set 23-month highs in prior sessions. Banks were in focus on Friday after the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority told them to limit the flow of interest-only lending to 30% of new residential mortgage loans, part of a package of measures aimed at cooling the investor-segment of the housing market. The regulator said it was responding to an environment of high housing prices, rising household indebtedness, subdued household income growth, historically low interest rates, and strong competitive pressures.
The London Metal Exchange's three-month copper contract closed down 1.99% at $5,838/t. All other base metals finished mostly lower on Friday. Aluminium prices fell 0.5% at 1,952/t, zinc prices fell 3.6% at 2,750/t, lead prices fell 0.6% at 2,331t, whilst nickel prices also finished 1.1% lower at 9,963/t. Tin prices bucked the trend rising 0.3% at 20,230/t.
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