The month of September marks both the close of the third quarter and an anticipated return of investors coming back from vacation. Despite faltering on the last day, stocks and exchange traded funds (ETFs) just closed their best quarter since 1998.

For the month, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 2.3%. The S&P 500 rose 3.6%, while the Nasdaq gained 5.6%. For the quarter, the Dow gained 14.2%, the S&P increased 14.5% and the Nasdaq added 15%.

The last time the Dow saw such a large quarterly surge was back in the fourth quarter of 1998, when it rose 17.2% as the dot-com bubble was forming.

A number of measures were enacted this quarter that helped spur the rally. Positive statements about the recession likely being over from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke contributed some optimism. The popular “cash for clunkers” program helped spur auto sales and managed to get ordinarily tight-fisted consumers to open their wallets.

Gold prices have also gained, surging above the $1,000 an ounce mark on a combination of safe-haven seeking, hedging of dollar weakness, industrial demand and jewelry buying.

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