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  • Dow Jones Industrial Average up 66.90 (+0.51%) to 13,212.72.
  • S&P 500up 5.14(+0.37%) to 1,408.42004
  • Nasdaq Composite down 3.79 (-0.12%) to 3,091.57

GLOBAL SENTIMENT

  • Hang Seng down 0.26%.
  • Chaina Shanghai Composite up 0.47%.
  • FTSE 100 up 0.46%.

Stocks closed higher Friday, helping ensure the best first quarter in the U.S. equity markets since the boom years of the late 1990s. The Dow Jones Industrial Index finished with just under a 1,000-point gain for the first three months of 2012, rising 8.15% to 13,212.72, according to preliminary closing numbers.

The S&P 500 rose 10.7% during Q1 while the Nasdaq Composite Index added 18.6% despite a small dip for the tech-heavy market gauge today.

Stocks got an early head start this morning after new data found U.S. personal spending rose 0.8% in February, beating estimates, while personal income climbed 0.2%, slightly below projections. Revised consumer sentiment data for March unexpectedly grew more than expected, with the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index rising to a 76.2 reading. Preliminary figures released earlier this month had a 74.3 score, with the final reading keeping the gauge of American attitudes about current and future economic conditions climbing for a seventh consecutive month.

Technology stocks were the lone industry sector finishing in negative territory today, largely dragged under by a 1.6% drop for Apple Inc. (AAPL) shares. Consumer staples and healthcare stocks shared top honors atop the sector charts along with energy stocks, which got an assist from a modest rebound in crude oil prices today following two days of steep losses.

A monthly assessment of manufacturing activity in the Chicago region also out this morning roughly met expectations with a 62.8 reading during March in the Institute for Supply Management's Purchasing Managers Index, down from a 64.0 reading in February. Experts in a Reuters poll had predicted a 63.0 reading. Figures above 50 indicate expansion.

In company news, shares of Research in Motion (RIMM) rose more than 7% today after saying it is now reviewing "strategic opportunities," including partnerships, joint-venture licensing or other ways to leverage its technology assets. Thorsten Heins, in his first quarterly conference call as RIMM chief executive, would not rule out a possible sale of the company but said, "It's not the main direction we're pursuing right now." Shares plunged as much as 9% in late trading last night immediately following the earnings call.

OptimumBank Holdings Inc. (OPHC) shares spiked in early Friday trading, reaching $5.00 a share for a 28% advance before easing to a single-digit gain as the bank was one of several mid-sized regional chains swept up in another wave of takeover speculation rolling through the sector. Princeton National Bancorp (OTCPK:PNBC), Village Bank and Trust Financial (VBFC), Monarch Community Bancorp (OTCQB:MCBF) and MetroCorp Bancshares Inc (MCBI), all similarly rose.

UPSIDE MOVERS

(+) SBSA, Reports Q4 EPS of $0.51 vs. $0.12 last year; total revenues grow 9%.

(+) SNSS, Announced $25 million licensing pact with Royalty Pharma for Vosaroxin leukemia treatment.

DOWNSIDE MOVERS

(-) FINL, Guides Q1 well below Wall Street expectations.

(-) XRTX, Q1 revenues missed forecasts.

Source: Stocks Wrap Up Stellar Quarter