US stocks end volatile quarter in muted fashion

NEW YORK (AFP) - US stocks ended a volatile quarter in muted fashion on Thursday, with the Dow falling modestly and the Nasdaq notching a tiny gain ahead of a much-anticipated March US jobs report.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped 31.57 points (0.18 per cent) to 17,685.09.

The broad-based S&P 500 lost 4.21 (0.2 per cent) at 2,059.74, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.55 (0.01 per cent) to 4,869.85.

US stocks avoided major swings ahead of Friday's US Labour Department report, which analysts expect will show the economy added 200,000 jobs in March.

"It's wait and see" for Friday's payroll report, said Charlie Bilello of Pension Partners.

US stocks tumbled through the first six weeks of 2016, with the S&P 500 falling below 1,850.

But stocks began rallying in mid-February, resulting in a quarterly gain of 1.49 per cent for the Dow and 0.77 per cent for the S&P 500. The Nasdaq lost 2.75 per cent for the quarter.

Dow member General Electric lost 0.1 per cent after announcing it requested that federal regulators drop its designation as a systemically important financial institution in light of significant divestitures in GE Capital, its financial firm.

McDonald's, another Dow member, also lost 0.1 per cent after saying it was looking for strategic partners as it plans to add more than 1,500 restaurants in China, Hong Kong and South Korea over the next five years.

Dow member IBM climbed 2 per cent after Morgan Stanley lifted the price target for the technology giant, citing strong demand for its Watson programme.

Tesla Motors rose 1.3 per cent ahead of a launch event later Thursday of its Model 3 car, an electric vehicle aimed at the medium-priced market.

Medivation surged 23 per cent on reports it was working with advisers to defend against takeover approaches. The pharmaceutical company has not planned to sell itself, Bloomberg reported.