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Stocks end mixed. Best first quarter since 1998.

Stocks closed out the quarter with the Dow gaining 742 points, its biggest first-quarter point gain in more than a decade and its biggest percentage gain since 1994.

Tim Brosnan (left) with Major League Baseball, former major league pitcher Al Leiter (center), and Mark Wright, with Budweiser, ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange in observance of baseball's opening day, March 31, 2011. Stocks chalked up their best first-quarter performance since 1998.

Richard Drew/AP

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By Abby Schultz and JeeYeon Park, CNBC.com

Stocks posted the best first quarter in more than a decade, although the last day of the quarter was fairly lackluster, with stocks dropping just before the close in another low-volume session.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 30.88 points, or 0.25 percent, to close at 12,319.73, the worst level of the session. For the quarter, the blue-chip index rose 742.22 points, or 6.4 percent, the best first quarter point gain since 1998 when it gained 891.56 points, and the best first quarter percent gain since 1994, when it rose 6.6 percent.

Among Dow components, American Express and Intel slumped, while 3M and United Technologies gained.

The S&P 500 fell 2.43 points, or 0.18 percent, to close at 1,325.83. For the quarter, the broad market index gained 68.19 points, or 5.4 percent, the best percent and point gain in the first quarter since 1998.

The Nasdaq gained 4.28 points, or 0.15 percent, to close at 2,781.07. For the quarter, the tech-heavy index gained 128.20 points, or 4.8 percent.

The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded at about 17.70, largely unchanged.

Among key S&P 500 sectors, materials and industrials rose, while financialsand consumer discretionary fell.

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