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Will 2012 Play Out Like 1998?

Stocks are mixed in morning trade, with defensive sectors like consumer staples and healthcare holding up, but growth stocks like tech lagging.

Overnight Asian markets were mostly lower, but Europe is higher this morning.  Eurozone members recently said that the rescue fund for the region has been expanded to 800 billion euros.

The dollar is a bit lower this morning, which is lending a bid to commodities.  Oil prices are up a bit to $103.15 and natural gas prices are bouncing also.  Gold prices are higher near $1665 and silver prices are higher as well.

In economic news, the final reading for Univ of Mich. consumer sentiment in March improved to 76.2 from an earlier reading of 74.3.  Also, the Chicago PMI slipped to 62.2 in March from 64.0 in February.

The 10-year yield is flat near 2.16%, and the VIX is up 2% to 15.80 after a big reversal lower yesterday.

Trading comment: While today could go either way, the S&P 500 is on pace to finish the quarter with a gain of roughly 11%.  I haven’t checked, but have heard that that would be the best Q1 since 1998.  For those who don’t remember, 1998 was a tremendously volatile year.  That was the year of the famous LTCM debacle that nearly toppled the market and caused a mini crash in October before the Fed stepped in with a surprise inter-meeting rate cut and the market vaulted higher into year-end.  The market was also in the midst of the Internet bubble back then, and I believe the famous “Amazon $1000 price target” call was made in 1998.  I’m not saying 2012 will mirror 1998, but don’t be surprised to see some volatility before all is said and done.  There are a lot of cross currents with Euro sovereign debt, China slowdown, US monetary policy, and of course the election this fall.  Just don’t forget to protect your profits and enjoy the ride.

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