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US: Stocks finish strong Q1 on down note

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[NEW YORK] Wall Street finished a strong quarter with a whimper on Friday, with major indices ending lower as President Donald Trump promised to fight trading partners that short-change the United States.

Mr Trump signed an executive order tasking staff to pinpoint countries and goods responsible for America's nearly US$50 billion a month trade deficit.

Analysts said only time would tell if the tough rhetoric is followed by meaningful policies, but it already has sparked worries of a global trade war.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.3 per cent to close the month at 20,663.22.

The broad-based S&P 500 shed 0.2 per cent to end at 2,362.71, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index slipped less than 0.1 per cent to 5,911.74.

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All three major indices finished the first quarter of the year with solid gains, with the Nasdaq climbing the most at about 10 per cent.

Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank, said investors frequently engage in "window dressing" at the end of a quarter, selling off stocks that have not performed well and boosting holdings that have outperformed. That could explain the Nasdaq's relative strength on Friday.

Mr Ablin said investors are fairly upbeat about stocks in light of strong US data, including reports in recent days on inflation, growth and consumer confidence.

That has allowed them to shrug off disappointing progress on Mr Trump's economic agenda, which had sparked records earlier in the quarter.

"Investors are looking past any near-term setbacks on policy and looking at underlying economic growth," Mr Ablin said.

FMC surged 13.2 per cent after announcing it would acquire some of DuPont's pesticide business in exchange for FMC's health and nutrition segment as a step towards clearing regulatory hurdles to DuPont's merger with Dow Chemical. DuPont fell 1.6 per cent and Dow lost 1.0 per cent.

Others to decline included ExxonMobil, which lost 2.0 per cent and Expedia, which shed 2.5 per cent, while Amazon rose 1.2 per cent.


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