FILE- In this March 7, 2019, file photo specialist Anthony Rinaldi, left, and trader Michael Urkonis work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The U.S. stock market opens at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Friday, March 29. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

S&P 500 posts biggest quarterly gain in a decade; Lyft soars

March 29, 2019 - 2:01 pm

Stocks finished broadly higher on Friday as Wall Street closed out the first quarter with the market's biggest gain in nearly a decade.

The benchmark S&P 500 index is now up 13.1 percent this year, a drastic turnaround for stocks after a jarring 14 percent sell-off in the last three months of 2018.

The market's blockbuster quarter shared the spotlight with Lyft's much-anticipated trading debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange. The ride-hailing company's shares finished at $78.29, or 8.7 percent above its offering price of $72.

New data pointing to lower inflation and renewed optimism among investors that the trade talks between the U.S. and China are making progress helped drive the rally. Bond yields also continued to rise from recent lows, easing concerns about a steep drop in long-term yields heading into this week.

"Low interest rates, low inflation, possibly better trade, that's enough here to move the market higher," said Mile Baele, senior portfolio manager at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. "It's been some time since we've had some enthusiasm in the IPO market, and that might be helping the markets today as well."

The S&P 500 index gained 18.96 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,834.40. The index also notched a gain for the week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 211.22 points, or 0.8 percent, to 25,928.68. The Nasdaq composite added 60.16 points, or 0.8 percent, to 7,729.32. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks picked up 4.63 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,539.74.

Major indexes in Europe and Asia closed higher.

The Dow ended the quarter with an 11.2 percent gain, while the Nasdaq is up 16.5 percent. The Russell 2000 is 14.2 percent higher this year.

The U.S. stock market rebounded strongly in the first quarter after closing out 2018 with a steep sell-off. The S&P 500's technology sector powered much of those gains, climbing 19.3 percent over the last three months.

The Federal Reserve sparked the rebound by announcing a more patient approach to further interest rate hikes. The move reassured investors, who'd worried that the Fed would continue to raise rates amid signs of a slowing global economy.

"As disappointing and perhaps shocking as the sell-off in the fourth quarter was, with the Fed getting out of the way, the rebound has been equally as shocking," said Baele. "Essentially, we're just back to where we were in October."

The first-quarter's strength helped prolong the bull market for U.S. stocks, which marked its 10th anniversary in March, and is now the longest ever.

The last time the S&P 500 index turned in a better quarterly performance was in the third quarter of 2009, when it climbed about 15 percent.

Friday's gains followed a broad rally in global stocks as investors hoped for progress in U.S.-Chinese trade talks. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called the U.S.-China trade talks "constructive" and said in a tweet Friday that he looked forward to continuing the talks in Washington next week.

Officials from the world's two biggest economies are aiming to put to rest a dispute over technology and other issues. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is expected to travel to Washington next week.

Bond yields rose for the second straight day, allaying traders' concerns following a steep drop in long-term yields over the past week. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.40 percent from 2.39 percent late Thursday.

Investors remain anxious about the slowing global economy. Economists believe growth has slowed this year due to weaker growth prospects in China and Europe, the dampening effects on U.S. exports from the Trump administration's trade battles and the waning boost from the 2017 tax cut and government spending.

The more downbeat outlook for economic growth has prompted the Federal Reserve to signal that it plans to keep its benchmark interest rate on hold this year.

Lyft's market debut marked the first time a U.S. ride-hailing company sold shares to the public.

Investors clamored to get in on the action in the days leading up to the IPO, despite the company's history of losses. That prompted Lyft to raise its target price to $72 per share from an initial range of $62 to $68.

Traders' enthusiasm boosted Lyft's shares 20 percent above their offering price in the first few minutes after they began trading. The shares ended the day 8.7 percent higher.

The company said it raised more than $2 billion in the IPO, which it plans to use in its heated competition with archrival Uber. Lyft sold 32.5 million shares in the offering, above the nearly 31 million that it had targeted in its regulatory filings leading up to Thursday evening's pricing.

Technology and health care companies drove much of the market's gains Friday. Micron Technology rose 5.1 percent and Celgene jumped 7.9 percent.

Industrial sector companies notched solid gains as shares in several airlines climbed. American Airlines Group gained 2.8 percent, Southwest Airlines added 2.9 percent and Delta Air Lines picked up 2.6 percent.

Among the biggest movers Friday were companies that issued their latest quarterly report cards.

CarMax led all stocks in the S&P 500 with a gain of 9.6 percent after the auto dealership chain's fourth-quarter earnings topped Wall Street's forecasts, even as revenue fell short of expectations.

Shares in RH slumped 22 percent after the owner of furniture chain Restoration Hardware reported disappointing fourth-quarter revenue. RH's fiscal 2019 outlook also fell well below analysts' expectations.

Investors will be focusing more on corporate earnings in coming weeks, as the next big wave of company results kick into gear in mid-April.

Energy futures closed mostly higher. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 1.4 percent to settle at $60.14 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, closed 0.8 percent higher at $68.39 a barrel.

Wholesale gasoline added 0.8 percent to $1.90 a gallon, heating oil picked up 0.1 percent to $1.97 a gallon and natural gas dropped 1.8 percent to $2.66 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold inched 0.2 percent higher to $1,298.50 an ounce, silver gained 0.9 percent to $15.11 an ounce and copper climbed 2.2 percent to $2.94 a pound.

The dollar rose to 110.80 yen from 110.58 yen on Thursday, while the euro weakened to $1.1214 from $1.1226.

The British pound also fell against the U.S. currency, sliding to $1.3003 from $1.3059, after lawmakers on Friday rejected for the third time Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to leave the European Union.

Britain now has until April 12 to tell the EU what it plans to do next. It must cancel Brexit, seek a longer delay or crash out of the bloc without a deal.