Stocks and other risky assets rallied Friday, rounding out the quarter with even more price gains on a day that encapsulated the main developments of the year so far: encouraging news out of Europe, better-than-expected consumer sentiment in the United States, and the perceived and steady pull of inflation.
Markets were mixed before the trading day began, but they were subsequently buoyed by a protocol-breaking leak by Austria's finance minister, who disclosed an expansion of the euro zone's financial firewall. Meanwhile, the most widely followed survey of U.S. consumer confidence beat analyst expectations to extend the rally.
Trading volume was low across the board. Market analysts are uncertain about what will happen if this low-volume trend continues, but, at the least, it does not bode well for bank earnings, which are expected to drive much of the equity market's growth this year.
Here's a look at how the markets fared:
Stocks. Asian markets were mixed. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index was down 0.26 percent, while Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 0.31 percent. European stock markets rallied, with benchmark French and German indices up more than 1 percent. The benchmark S&P 500 gained 0.37 percent to 1,408.37. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite slipped 0.12 percent, but finished the first quarter up over 19 percent.
Bonds. Interest rates on long-term U.S. Treasurys rose while those on short-term securities dropped marginally, a market action known as a bear steepening. This kind of dynamic usually occurs when a rally in risky assets -- which causes investors to move their money out of safer instruments like bonds -- coincides with rising inflation expectations. The effect of inflationary pressures was seen across various other fixed-income financial instruments.
Commodities. Metals, energy, and agricultural commodities rose, as the expected devaluation of the currency inherent within inflation expectations took center stage. Copper, palladium, and other industrial metals climbed. Gold and silver rose, and agricultural commodities like corn and soybeans rallied. Light sweet crude for May delivery, the most actively traded contract for petroleum, rose 29 cents to $103.07 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Currencies. The dollar declined as investors moved their cash to riskier European and emerging-market products. The euro rose to $1.3346 and the British pound climbed to $1.6001. The Japanese yen, which has been consistently strong against the dollar, declined to ¥82.78 per dollar.