Last week had an intriguing feel. After getting pummeled week after week, the bulls finally started to show some spine. In a breathtaking session on Thursday, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

whipped around, skidding nearly 400 points before coming back in the final portion of the day to finish with a more modest loss.

A few things working in the near term must be closely watched. For starters, a couple of factors could be giving the market a push over the next several days. One, money managers, focused on the quarter-end, are eager to find some performance somewhere. They're more likely to jump on any signs of optimism with March 31 now clearly in sight. Two, hedge fund managers, massively short -- and loving that game since early January -- are now getting a little more conservative. They are also eyeing the March 31 deadline. Why get in the way of the lumbering funds? So they're most likely covering their short positions.

That salutary combination could give stocks a decent underpinning through the end of the month. Then will come the real test. If the market has held firm leading into the end of the month, we'll lose the calendar-driven positives and will stare tax day squarely in the eye. Several analysts believe tax-driven selling has played a role in the recent downturn, and we may not be out of those woods yet. But if the market should start to shrug off selling pressure come early April, then the bulls may start to step out a little more forcefully.

As noted last week, we've seen a lot of damage. Two more contrarian indicators came in on Monday when the national newsweeklies,

Time

and

Newsweek

, arrived on doorsteps with bearish covers. It may be that as the bearish chortling reaches its apex, we're set to start mustering higher. It's all very fragile still, but there are more indications that we're starting to see a clearing in what has been a brutalizing first three months of the year.

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L'Etoile du Nord

Dave Kansas

Editor-in-Chief

Dave Kansas is editor-in-chief of TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, though he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback and invites you to send it to

Dave Kansas.