Stocks were little changed on Monday on the first trading day of the second quarter as data showing a modest pickup in U.S. manufacturing offset a report showing a dimmer view of factory activity in Europe.

Stocks closed their strongest quarter in more than two years on a positive note on Friday, led by underperforming sectors like energy and health care.

The ISM national factory activity index rose to 53.4 in March from 52.4 in the previous month and came in better than forecast. But U.S. construction spending in February recorded its largest drop in seven months as investment in private and government projects fell.

Worries about a recession in Europe intensified after a report showed the region's manufacturing sector shrank for an eighth straight month in March.

I would have liked to have seen some (U.S.) construction activity coming back, (but) that was weak. The economy seems to be improving, but some sections aren't improving fast enough, like the housing section, said Subodh Kumar, chief investment strategist at Subodh Kumar & Associates in Toronto.

Still, I don't expect these will be market movers as investors look ahead to earnings and other datapoints coming out.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 1.25 points, or 0.01 percent, at 13,210.79. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was up 3.29 points, or 0.23 percent, at 1,411.76. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> rose 7.10 points, or 0.23 percent, at 3,098.67.

Equity markets will be closed for the Good Friday holiday, which could create lighter volume and increase volatility. Despite the holiday, the government will release the March payrolls report on Friday, which could leave investors reticent to make big bets ahead of the data. Trading volume was expected to be light all week.

Beauty company Coty Inc offered to buy cosmetics direct seller Avon Products Inc for $23.25 a share, a 20 percent premium over Friday's closing price. Avon jumped 15.2 percent to $22.30.

Despite falling six of the last nine sessions, the S&P 500 gained 12 percent in the first quarter, its best start of the year since 1998 and the best overall quarter since the third period of 2009. The broad index sits just off 4-year highs.

(Reporting By Angela Moon; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)