On the final day of the first quarter, the major stock market indices were off to a clean start. In what may prove to be little more than window dressing, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 18 to 9815, while the

Nasdaq Composite Index was ahead by a mere 2 points to 1823.

At the end of a quarter, institutional investors typically tidy up their portfolios to improve their appearance for presentation to clients or shareholders, a practice referred to as window dressing. As a result, portfolio managers will abandon risky positions and revert to safer stocks instead. And they'll put cash sitting on the sidelines back into the stock market.

Today's gains come on the heels of steep losses in the technology sector. A bevy of big-cap tech stocks hit 52-week lows yesterday, and the

Nasdaq Composite Index slipped to a new 29-month low. After two days of selling, on Wednesday and Thursday, the index lost 7.7%. The blue-chip

Dow fell 1.6% Wednesday, but edged higher yesterday.

Among the stocks climbing on the Dow was

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

, up 1.4% to $39.55. According to a report in

Business Week



(C) - Get Report

is rumored to be courting the financial giant.


(C) - Get Report

fell 1% to $44.28.

Other industrials moving higher included

Home Depot

(HD) - Get Report

, up 1.5% to $43.30,


(XOM) - Get Report

, higher by 2.1% to $79.95, and

Johnson & Johnson

(JNJ) - Get Report

, ahead 0.4% to $88.70.

In economic news,

Personal income and consumption

numbers for February, released at 8:30 a.m. EST, came in a touch higher than expected. Personal income growth came in at 0.4%, while spending increased 0.3%. Economists were expecting the numbers to be 0.3% each, compared with 0.6% for income and 0.7% for consumption in January.

Investors will be closely watching the

University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index, out at 10:00 a.m. this morning, to see if it confirms a March spike in consumer optimism revealed by Tuesday's consumer confidence index.