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December 12, 2017
Thursday, March 31, 2016

Wall Street inches up as choppy quarter draws to a close

Wall Street inched up in quiet trading helped by energy stocks, as a tumultuous quarter draws to a close.

The first quarter was marked by a steep selloff in stocks at the start of the year that sent the S&P 500 down about 11 percent before a rebound in oil prices sparked a recovery.

Investors held off on making big bets ahead of the critical U.S. non-farm payrolls report due on Friday. Crude oil rose slightly, hovering near $40 a barrel.

Data on Thursday showed US jobless claims rose unexpectedly last week, but remained well below the 300,000 mark denoting a healthy labor market.

Friday's report will give investors a clearer reading on the state of the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 25.48 points, or 0.14 percent, at 17,742.14, the S&P 500 was up 2.45 points, or 0.12 percent, at 2,066.4 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 14.06 points, or 0.29 percent, at 4,883.36.

Seven of the 10 major S&P sectors posted meager gains, with a 0.3 percent rise in the energy sector leading the way.

Investors' nerves were soothed this week by US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's comments that the central bank should be cautious with raising interest rates.

Yellen's remarks quelled speculation that the Fed could be aggressive with its plan to raise rates, and pushed stocks to their highest this year. The S&P is now up 1 percent in 2016.

Investors are also concerned about tepid corporate earnings growth and will keep a close eye on the quarterly reports that start rolling in next month.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,676 to 1,163. On the Nasdaq, 1,458 issues rose and 1,092 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 20 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 27 new highs and 13 new lows.

In Europe, shares were falling after solid gains in the previous session, with French telecoms and Italian banks underperforming.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index slid 1.1 percent. The index had risen 1.3 percent in the previous session after Fed Chair Janet Yellen's call for caution in raising US interest rates buoyed global stock markets.

French telecom stocks were among the worst performers after Orange and Bouygues gave them themselves until Sunday to salvage a merger between France's dominant telecom operator and Bouygues Telecom, citing a lack of progress ahead of a Thursday deadline.

Orange shares fell 1.2 percent, while Bouygues declined 3.4 percent. Rival French telecom stocks also lost ground, with Iliad dropping 2.1 percent, Numericable-SFR down 1.9 percent and Altice down 0.9 percent.

Shares in Italian banks also slumped sharply, as three sources told Reuters that guarantor UniCredit was considering whether to delay Banca Popolare di Vicenza's 1.76 billion euro ($2 billion) rights issue, currently slated for April, if market conditions did not improve.

The fund-raising is regarded as a crucial test of investor confidence in Italian banks, whose shares have sold off sharply this year because of concerns about 360 billion euros of bad loans clogging their balance sheets.

The FTSEurofirst has recovered from lows reached in February but is still down by around 8 percent since the start of 2016. Concerns about a slowdown in China, the world's second-biggest economy, have hit world stock markets and commodity prices.

Meanwhile, Japan's Nikkei fell in choppy trade to a near two-week low as a stronger yen trimmed the profit outlook for exporters, while investors stayed on the sidelines on the final day of Japan's financial year looking for more catalysts ahead.

The Nikkei share average dropped 0.7 percent to 16,758.67, the lowest closing level since March 18. Japan's benchmark index rose 4.6 percent for the month, while it tumbled about 12 percent for the fourth quarter through Thursday.

The broader Topix declined 0.7 percent to 1,347.20 and ended the quarter 13 percent lower. The JPX-Nikkei Index 400 slipped 0.7 percent to 12,161.79.

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