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Will jobs report extend Q1 stock gains?

(MoneyWatch) Investors won their very own Mega Millions, with the best quarter for stocks since 1998. Because past performance is not an indication of future results, all eyes turn to the second quarter and what better way to get everyone focused then to have a jobs report!

The March employment report will be released Friday, but traders will have to wait to show their happiness or displeasure, because stock markets will be closed in observance of Good Friday.

After three months of solid gains averaging over 240,000 per month, economists expect another month where 200,000 jobs were created (estimates range from 180,000-240,000) and for the unemployment rate to remain at 8.3 percent.

Given the trend in weekly and monthly Labor Department results since November, there's no doubt that the job market is thawing. Last week, the 4-week moving average for initial jobless claims fell to the lowest level since early 2008. While the department recently made its annual revisions to the past five years of data, which increased the number of unemployment benefit applications in recent months, the downward trend remains intact. Still, with 12.8 million Americans out of work, we have a long way to go.

"Sell in May and go away?" The old Wall Street chestnut has worked for the past two years when stocks started strong, only to slide into summer malaise due to rumblings in Europe. Some are vowing not to get fooled again, while others cling to the hope that if the rally stalls, Uncle Ben (Bernanke) will come to the rescue with the third version of QE. The Fed's Operation Twist is supposed to end in June, but as Bernanke himself has said, the central bank stands ready to act.

U.S. stock indexes closed out the first quarter with strong performances. For the Dow and the S&P 500, it was the best Q1 since 1998. The NASDAQ fared even better, putting in the best Q1 since 1991.

-- DJIA: 13,212, up 1.% on week, up 8.1% on year (up 21% over last 2 quarters, 7% below all-time high set in Oct 2007)

-- S&P 500: 1,408, up 0.8% on week, up 12% on year (up 24.5% over last 2 quarters)

-- NASDAQ: 3,091, up 0.7%, up 18.7% on year (up 28% over last 2 quarters)

-- May Crude Oil: $103.02, down 3.6% on week, up 4.2% on quarter

-- April Gold: $1,669.30, up 0.4% on the week, up 6.6% on quarter

-- AAA national average price for gallon of regular gas: $3.92 (up from $3.28 at beginning of Q1)


-- Financial and tech: +21% each

-- Consumer discretionary: +16%

-- Industrials: 11%

-- Utilities: -2.7% (only sector to fall in Q1)

-- Bank of America: +72 percent (best performing Dow component)

-- Sears: +108% (best performing S&P 500 component)

-- Apple: +48% (Apple is the largest component of the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ. The stock accounted for nearly 4% and 11% of the indexes, respectively. Apple's stock gained $180 billion in market capitalization in Q1 - more than most Dow components' total value.)

-- 10-year Treasury bond yields: 2.218%, up .33% in Q1, the worst quarter since Q4 2010. The record low yield was 1.67% in September, 2011 and the average over the past decade is 3.86%

-- Trading volume: Worst quarter for trading volumes since 2007

THE WEEK AHEAD: In addition to the jobs report, there will be reports on the manufacturing and the services sectors from the Institute for Supply Management, as well as car sales, which are expected to come in at an annual rate of 14.5 million.

Mon 4/2:

10:00 ISM Manufacturing Index

10:00 Construction spending

Tues 4/3:

Motor vehicle sales

10:00 Factory orders

2:00 FOMC minutes

Weds 4/4:

7:00 Weekly mortgage applications

7:30 Challenger job-cut report

8:15 ADP private employment report

10:00 ISM Non-Manufacturing Index

Thurs 4/5:

Chain store sales

8:30 Weekly jobless claims


8:30 March employment report

3:00 Consumer credit