Stocks End Down Quarter on an Up Note

Stocks ended their worst quarter since mid-2002 with modest gains on Monday, thanks to a better than expected — but still contracting — Midwest manufacturing report and a sweeping proposal to reform financial market oversight in the wake of the subprime mortgage meltdown.

For the quarter, the Nasdaq lost 14.1%, the S&P shed 9.9%, and the Dow fell 7.6%.

About the only good news was that the downtrend moderated in March. The Dow and S&P ended the month slightly lower, for their fifth straight monthly loss, but the Nasdaq ended the month up slightly, breaking a four-month losing streak.

Whether April can break the broader market’s longest monthly losing streak since 1990 will have much to do with the state of corporate earnings — and accompanying commentary from company officials about whether there is any end in sight to the economic downturn.

Chip stocks led the market higher on industry reports of strong sales and stable DRAM pricing. Micron, SanDisk and Intel paced the sector’s gains.

Ansoft soared 30% on a buyout offer from Ansys.

iPCS surged 36% on a court win against Sprint.

The Nasdaq rose 17 to 2279, the S&P climbed 7 to 1322, and the Dow added 46 to 12,262. Volume rose to 4.17 billion shares on the NYSE, and 1.82 billion on the Nasdaq. Advancers led by a 20-12 margin on the NYSE, and 17-11 on the Nasdaq. Upside volume was 63% on the NYSE, and 70% on the Nasdaq. New highs-new lows were 16-57 on the NYSE, and 35-132 on the Nasdaq.

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