Stocks fluctuated Thursday after mixed economic news, including weak factory orders, but remained on track to post the best quarterly results in more than a decade.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was slightly lower after bouncing higher and lower throughout the sessision, following rallies the past two sessions.The blue-chip index had gained 6.68 percent for the first quarter through the close on Wednesday, the best result since 1998.
Among Dow components, Intel and Home Depot slumped, while Travelers , United Technologies gained.
The S&P 500, which is also on pace to post the best quarterly performance since 1998, and the Nasdaq both traded flat to lower, also after moving in and out of positive territory. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, rose above 17.
Among key S&P 500 sectors, materials and energy rose, while consumerdiscretionary and financials fell.
Orders to U.S. factoriesfell 0.1 percent in February, dragged down by transportatoin, the Commerce Department reported. Orders had risen 3.3 percent in January.
Initial claims for unemployment fell to a seasonally-adjusted 388,000 for the week ended March 26, from a revised 394,000 the week before, the Labor Department reported. Claims last week were reported at 382,000.
Also, the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index showed the pace of business activity in the Midwest slipped in March.
Investors remain focused unrest in the Middle East and Japan’s nuclear crisis, but appear to remain confident in the global economic recovery as stocks keep rising. The market is poised to post the best quarterly result since 1998.
Rebels were still fighting for control of the east Libyan town of Brega on Thursday amid ongoing discussion as to whether Western forces should arm rebels in Libya, Reuters reported.
The situation also remained tense in Bahrain, but the military there has made it clear it will not tolerate any more public demonstrations. Meanwhile in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad refused to meet protesters’ demands.
Oil prices rose sharply on Thursday. U.S. light sweet crude moved above $105 a barrel and London Brent crude gained more than $116.
Energy stocks rose broadly across producers, services, coal and natural companies, as oil prices gained. Hess , Consol Energyand Occidental Petroleum were among companies leading the sector higher.