U.S. stocks post slight gains, led by oil and gas companies

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks rose on the seventh anniversary of the bull market on Wednesday as crude oil resumed its climb from a 13-year low.

The gains were modest as investors await key policy decisions from Europe’s central bank on Thursday and from the U.S. Federal Reserve next week. Energy companies rebounded from big drops the day before, gaining 1.5 percent.

The stock market has been climbing for three weeks as reports on hiring, retail spending and manufacturing suggest the U.S. economy is strengthening and that fears that a slowdown in China would tip the U.S. into recession are overblown. The Standard and Poor’s 500 index is up 9 percent from its mid-February low.

“People are becoming more optimistic and markets are recovering,” said Seth Masters, chief investment officer at AB Bernstein. The hope is that “monetary authorities are committed to doing what it takes and not derail it.”

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The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 36.26 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,000.36. The Nasdaq composite increased 25.55 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,674.38. The S&P 500 climbed 10 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,989.26.

The gains were broad, with nine of 10 industry sectors of the S&P 500 rising. The jump in crude sent several energy companies soaring. Chesapeake Energy climbed 8 percent, Devon Energy rose 7 percent and Newfield Exploration rose 6 percent.

The S&P 500 has tripled since bottoming out at 676.53 exactly seven years ago during the financial crisis. Stocks have been pushed up by higher corporate earnings, though not in the past year, and by the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented efforts to encourage investors to take more risk by lowering interest rates on bonds and other safer assets.

The current bull market is the third-longest of the 11 since World War II, according to research firm S&P Capital IQ.

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Chief Investment Officer Krishna Memani of Oppenheimer Funds said he’s optimistic the bull market will extend its run because modest economic growth means little inflation, and no need for the Federal Reserve to move too quickly to reverse its stimulus policies.

“We believe this will be one of the longest economic expansions, and thus one the longest bull markets, we have experienced,” he said. “Easy money still rules.”

The Federal Reserve meets next week, but most investors do not think it will raise short-term interest rates it controls from near zero. It raised them for the first time in nine years in December.

At the end of its policy meeting on Thursday, the European Central Bank is widely expected to announce more efforts to stimulate the 19-country eurozone. Possible moves include another cut in the deposit rate for funds from commercial banks to even further below zero. The hope is that will get banks to stop holding onto their money and lend more.

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The ECB also could increase its bond-buying program to pump more money into the region’s economy.

Among U.S. stocks making big moves Wednesday, Air Transport Services jumped $1.96, or 17 percent, to $13.73 after turning in solid results and saying it will operate an air transport network for Amazon. Pet-food company Blue Buffalo Pet Products rose $4.19, or 23 percent, $22.75 after posting strong earnings.

Chipotle Mexican Grill fell $18.06, or 3 percent, to $506.63. The restaurant chain closed a Massachusetts store after a local health board said an employee there tested positive for norovirus. The agency also found two other suspected cases. The closure follows a series of food scares that sickened customers at its restaurants around the country. The stock is down 23 percent in the past 12 months.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX and Britain’s FTSE 100 were each up 0.3 percent. The CAC-40 in France rose 0.5 percent. The three indexes each fell nearly 1 percent the day before.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 0.8 percent while South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.3 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dipped 0.1 percent.

Prices for industrial and precious metals ended mostly lower. Gold slipped $5.50 to $1,257.40 an ounce, silver fell two cents to $15.37 an ounce and copper gained one cent to $2.23 a pound.

In energy trading, a barrel of benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.79, or 5 percent, to $38.29. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, gained $1.42, or 3.6 percent, to $41.07 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline rose 8.3 cents to $1.471 a gallon, heating oil rose 3.3 cents to $1.233 a gallon and natural gas rose four cents to $1.752 per 1,000 cubic feet.

U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.88 percent from 1.83 percent.

The euro was flat at $1.1002. The dollar edged up to 113.36 yen from 112.61 yen.