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Stocks up on first of trading in Q2; Automakers post better-than-expected sales; UAL upgraded

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Stocks opened the second quarter in the green. The Dow (^DJI) was up 0.46%. The Nasdaq (^IXIC) was up 1.64% and and the S&P 500 (^GSPC) was up 0.70%. The Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing purchasing managers’ index rose slightly in March to 53.7 from 53.2 in February. A reading above 50 means manufacturing activity is expanding.

Automakers reported stronger-than-expected sales in March. Ford (F) sales rose 3.4% versus estimates of a 1.1% gain. Chrysler said sales jumped 13%. Analysts expected an increase of 10%. Volkswagen sales declined less than expected, down 2.6% versus expectations for a decline of 7.8%. Toyota (TM) said sales rose 4.9% in March. Analysts expected a 2.3% increase. In a positive sign for the auto market and the broader economy, Toyota also said momentum picked up in the latter part of the month. That could indicate consumers resumed shopping as the weather eased up. General Motors (GM) said its sales report was delayed until later in the day due to a dealer sales reporting issue.

Meanwhile, GM CEO Mary Barra was on Capitol Hill for the first of two days of testimony about the company’s handling of recalls after problems with faulty ignition switches came to light more than a decade ago. The company also announced a new round of recalls. 1.3 million vehicles were recalled due to power steering losses in seven models produced between 2004 and 2010. The latest recall brings the total for the year to more than 6 million vehicles recalled by GM.

And shares of United Continental (UAL) closed up over 5% after UBS upgraded the stock to a buy with a $50 price target. UBS said it sees accelerating sales growth for UAL in the second quarter.