Indexes were little changed for most of the day, then gradually slid from small gains to small losses in the afternoon. A shaky industry outlook hurt agriculture, fertilizer and farm equipment companies.
Gold prices inched higher to complete their biggest quarterly gain in almost 30 years. The& Dow& Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 index, both of which were down more than 10 percent last month, finished the quarter higher.
The& Dow& fell 31.57 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,685.09. The S&P 500 shed 4.21 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,059.74 The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.55 points to 4,869.85.
Agricultural companies slumped following disappointing quarterly results and a shaky outlook from irrigation company Lindsay. Agricultural giant Monsanto lost $3.35, or 3.7 percent, to $87.74. Fertilizer maker Mosaic fell $1.12, or 4 percent, to $27. Equipment maker Deere shed $3.13, or 3.9 percent, to $76.99.
The price of gold rose $7.30, or 0.6 percent, to $1,234.20 an ounce. In the first quarter gold rose 16 percent, its largest gain in any quarter since 1986, going higher because of concerns about the health of the global economy, central bank policies, and, more recently, because the U.S. dollar has started to weaken after years of gains. Gold had fallen for six quarters in a row.
The price of silver rose 25 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $15.46 an ounce. Copper lost 1 cent to $2.18 a pound.
Stocks tumbled in January and early February on concerns that weak growth in several major global economies would pull the U.S. economy into recession. In early February, the& Dow& average and the S&P 500 index were down more than 10 percent from the start of the year. Stocks roared back in March as investors were encouraged by positive economic news in the U.S. and central bank moves around the world to stimulate economic growth.
The& Dow& finished the quarter up 1.5 percent and the S&P 500 made a 0.8 percent gain. The Nasdaq lost 2.8 percent.
Benchmark U.S. crude rose 2 cents to $38.34 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 34 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $39.60 a barrel in London.
Electric car maker Tesla rose $2.88, or 1.3 percent, to $229.77. On Thursday the company unveiled its lower-priced Model 3 car.
Bond prices continued to rise. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note dipped to 1.77 percent from 1.83 percent. The dollar inched up to 112.53 yen from 112.47 yen. The euro rose to $1.1387 from $1.1333.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline dipped 1 cent to $1.43 a gallon. Heating oil rose two cents, or 2 percent, to $1.18 a gallon. Natural gas fell 4 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $1.96 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Stocks in Europe retreated after Wednesday’s surge. France’s CAC-40 fell 1.3 percent and Germany’s DAX declined 0.8 percent. In London the FTSE 100 index was off 0.5 percent. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.7 percent and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong retreated 0.1 percent.