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U.S. stocks notch best first quarter since 1998 *PIC*

U.S. stocks notch best first quarter since 1998 ( DJIA SPX COMP ) (by Kate Gibson)

NEW YORK (MarketWatch)-- U.S. stocks on Friday netted their biggest first-quarter rise in more than a decade after a better-than-anticated increase in consumer spending and sentiment raised views of the economy. The S&P 500's 12% rise would represent "a stunning year, and is even more so as a quarter. But I do think it's a comeback from an underexposed level for institutions; they were so scared they were hiding in defensive issues, and are now looking for opportunities to make money and not just hide. That shift alone has also helped move markets higher," said Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist at DowBull.com. Up 8.1% for the quarter, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (djia) rose 66.22 points, or 0.5%, to 13,212, sealing its best first-quarter point gain in its history. The S&P 500 (spx) gained 5.19 points, or 0.4%, to 1,408.47, garnering its biggest first-quarter advance since 1998. The Nasdaq Composite (comp) fell 3.79 points, or 0.1%, to 3,091.57, leaving it up nearly 19% for the first quarter.