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Market has best start of year since 1999

The Dow Jones industrial average closed its best start to the year since 1999 Thursday, down for the day but rising 6.4 percent in the first three months. The index of 30 large companies gained 742 points in that stretch. Measured against other first quarters, that's the largest point gain since 1998 and the second best on record.

Stocks ended the day mixed as the price of oil jumped to a 30-month high. Slightly disappointing reports on unemployment claims and factory orders also weighed on the market.

The first-quarter gains were anything but an easy ride. Uprisings in the Arab world, a jump in oil prices along with the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan led to many deep one-day falls.

"This is a market that has been defined by resilience in the face of uncertainty," said Andrew Goldberg, a market strategist at JP Morgan Funds.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 30.88 points, or 0.3 percent, to 12,319.73. That's just 72 points shy of its Feb. 18 high for the year.

The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 2.43, or 0.2 percent, to 1,325.83. The Nasdaq composite rose 4.28, or 0.2 percent, to 2,781.07. The S&P 500 rose 5.4 percent during the first quarter, the Nasdaq 4.8 percent.

Stocks swung between small gains and losses Thursday as the price of oil surged to settle at $106.72 a barrel.

Oil prices have jumped $20 since the Libyan uprising began in February.

The Labor Department said fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, signaling that companies may be slowing layoffs. The number of new claims fell by 6,000 to 388,000.

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