Stocks end 1Q with solid gains

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in the Manhattan borough of New York

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in the Manhattan borough of New York

Data and Fed speakers: The rate of inflation in consumer goods and services topped 2% in February for the first time since 2012.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) are 16.5 points below fair value. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 1 point, or 0.1 per cent, to 2,366. The Nasdaq Composite Index decreased 2.61 points, or 0.04 percent, to 5,911.74. The Nasdaq was coming off its latest all-time high. Small caps fared better, as the Russell 2000 Index rose 0.3 per cent.

Trading was largely subdued, suggesting portfolio managers looking to bolster their end-of-quarter performance had made their moves earlier in the week, said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial.

Meanwhile, the final reading of the consumer sentiment for March came in at 96.9, missing market consensus of 97.6, said the Thomson Reuters/University of MI index of consumer sentiment on Friday.

Investors are also turning their attention to the impending first-quarter earnings season to support lofty valuations for stocks. The S&P 500 backed off 0.2% and the Nasdaq gave up its earlier gains to close flat. In the third quarter of 2016, real GDP increased 3.5 percent.

U.S. ECONOMY: The Commerce Department said consumer spending kept rising in February, though gains in the last two months have been slow. For the month, the Dow shed 0.7% - its first monthly decline since October - but surged 4.6% in the first quarter.

TAKE THE WHEEL: Shares in two big auto dealership companies were in a skid.

The S&P 500 Index ended trading down 0.2 per cent to 2362.72. AutoNation fell $1.20, or 2.8 per cent, to $42.29. The stock added $5.22 to $37.96. Its shares picked up $1.27 to $10.54. The stock climbed $5.45 to $17.40.

FMC Corp (NYSE:FMC) was set to be a bright spot after it agreed to acquire a chunk of the crop protection business of E I Du Pont De Nemours And Co (NYSE:DD). (FMC) in exchange for $1.2 billion in cash and FMC Health and Nutrition. Antitrust regulators in Europe wanted DuPont to make the sale as part of its combination with competitor Dow Chemical. Shares in FMC jumped $8.42, or 13.7 per cent, to $69.92.

Also weighing on the S&P 500 and Dow, Exxon Mobil fell 1.92 percent. London's FTSE 100 is the biggest regional laggard - down 0.5%.

Oil prices climbed back above the highly watched $50 mark today, amid heightened expectations the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC members will extend their output-cut agreement past June.

OIL: Recovering from an early slide, benchmark USA crude rose 12 cents to $50.47 per barrel in NY. Brent crude, used to price global oils, rose 3 cents to $53.16.

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