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Quarterly stock market scorecard: Gains all around, doubts at the end

The stock market posted its seventh straight monthly gain in September, though it closed out the last day of the third quarter with modest losses amid fresh doubts about the economic recovery.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 29.92 points, or 0.3%, to 9,712.28 today, but was up 2.3% for the month and 15% for the quarter. It reached a high for the year of 9,829.87 on Sept. 22.

Broader market indexes scored bigger gains than the 30-stock Dow in the quarter as cash continued to pile into equities here and abroad, betting that the recession has ended. Even amid some surprisingly weak economic reports in recent days the bulls haven’t lost control.

The bottom line: Your 401(k) account should be significantly fatter today than it was three months ago, unless you’ve given up on stocks altogether.

Here’s a scorecard for the third quarter:

Wallstsignage

--- The Standard & Poor’s 500 index ended at 1,057.08, up 15% for the quarter after rising 15.2% in the second quarter. Year-to-date the S&P is up 17% -- which normally would be considered a healthy rise, except that the index plummeted 38.5% last year amid the global financial-system meltdown.

The S&P is up 56.2% from its 12-year low on March 9, but it’s still down 32.5% from its all-time high of 1,565.15 in October 2007.

--- The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index surged 15.7% for the quarter, to close at 2,122.42 today, after a 20% gain in the previous quarter. Tech stocks remain a favorite bet of investors who expect the global economy to stay on a recovery track. Cisco Systems rallied 26.2% in the quarter. Apple Inc. jumped 30.1%.

--- Small-company stocks continued to outpace blue chips, as usual in the early stages of a bull market. The Russell 2,000 small-stock index rallied 18.9% in the quarter after rising 20.2% in the second quarter. The Russell index is up 21% for the year.

--- As in the second quarter, financial stocks were the best performers among the 10 broad industry groups in the S&P 500. The financial sector jumped 25.1% in the third quarter after a 35.1% surge in the second quarter, as many bank stocks recovered from severely depressed levels in early March (when some investors were expecting the nationalization of much of the industry).

Industrial stocks were the second-best S&P sector in the third quarter, up 21.2% -- another bet on global growth and rising U.S. exports.

--- Most major and minor foreign stock markets racked up gains in the range of 15% to 25% in the latest quarter. For U.S. investors those gains were enhanced by the strength of many foreign currencies against the dollar.

The German market was up 18% in euros and up 23% in dollars. The Brazilian market rallied 19.5% in reals and 32.3% in dollars.

-- Tom Petruno

 
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