U.S. stocks rise with oil as S&P 500 rallies to six-week high

NEW YORK – U.S. stocks rallied, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 index closing at a six-week high, amid broad gains as a surge in oil prices helped lessen concern that a slowdown in global growth is deepening.

Investors continued to load up on some of the year’s worst performers, with banks up for the fifth time in six days as Wells Fargo and Bank of America increased at least 2.2 percent. Copper miner Freeport-McMoran climbed almost 15 percent and is up 62 percent since Feb. 11. United Technologies jumped as much as 7.6 percent after CNBC reported the company has held merger talks with Honeywell International.

The S&P 500 rose 1.4 percent to 1,945.50 at 4 p.m. in New York, the highest since Jan. 6 following its strongest weekly advance since November. The benchmark is less than seven points away from its average price during the past 50 days, after falling below that level on Dec. 30. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 228.67 points, or 1.4 percent, to 16,620.66. The Nasdaq composite index gained 1.5 percent to a three-week high.

“Markets now are at least maybe coming to a recognition that while it’s not going to be a great economic outlook, it’s probably not going to be terrible, either,” said Greg Woodard, a senior analyst and strategist at Fairport, New York-based Manning & Napier, which oversees about $46 billion. “The wheels of the economy are certainly not falling off in the U.S.”

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Oil rose amid speculation that a production freeze by some OPEC members and Russia could eventually help to abate the surplus. Russia said talks on an output freeze will be done by March 1, while Nigeria said some countries should have production capped at higher levels. West Texas Intermediate crude futures soared 6.2 percent, and briefly rose above $32 a barrel.

Equities showed little indication Monday of the anxiety over the pace of global growth or the impact of persistently low oil prices that helped drive the S&P 500 to a 22-month low on Feb. 11. Signs that crude prices are stabilizing, and speculation that China’s slowdown isn’t as bad as feared have helped the gauge cut its 2016 decline in half in six trading sessions. Some of the year’s most beaten-down shares — including banks, semiconductor, auto and retailer stocks — have paced the rebound

Concern that some energy producers will have trouble staying solvent amid low oil prices has put pressure on lenders this year, while investors have also been worried that weakness in China’s economy could spread. The main U.S. equity benchmark is still down 8.7 percent from a May record and has slipped 4.8 percent this year.

“I think it would be very helpful for oil to stabilize at least,” said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland. “It doesn’t necessary have to start climbing back. A rally, even if it’s fairly short, will definitely help to shore up prices in the equity market in the short term.”

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Investors continue to assess economic data to gauge the health of the world’s biggest economy, and the possible trajectory of interest rates. Reports on consumer confidence, home sales, durable goods, economic growth and personal spending are due this week. Data today showed a measure of January manufacturing in the Chicago area improved more than expected.

With the earnings season approaching an end, about three-quarters of results from S&P 500 firms exceeded profit projections, while less than half have topped sales forecasts. Macy’s, Target, Transocean and Apache are among those reporting this week. Analysts estimate earnings at S&P 500 companies fell 4.2 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with Jan. 15 predictions for a 7 percent slump.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange volatility index fell 5.6 percent today to 19.38, under 20 for the first time in three weeks. The measure of market turbulence known as the VIX closed at the lowest since Jan. 5 amid the longest streak of declines in four months. About 7.2 billion shares traded hands on U.S. exchanges, 12 percent below the three-month average.

“This is a continued recovery from the big correction we’ve encountered,” said Eric Green, director of research and senior managing partner at Penn Capital, which has more than $6 billion under management in Philadelphia. “Earnings are coming in a little better than low expectations, valuations in the market have become attractive and sentiment is very, very negative. All those things along with the fact that you’re getting a bounce back in oil prices are contributing to the upside.”

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All of the S&P 500’s 10 main industries rose, with eight gaining more than 1.1 percent. Energy climbed 2.2 percent and closed at a six-week high along with raw-materials and industrials. Consumer staples advanced 0.4 percent to the highest this year.

United Technologies posted its steepest jump in more than four years on the CNBC report of merger talks with Honeywell, which erased an earlier climb of more than 4 percent. According to regulatory filings analyzed by Bloomberg, nine Honeywell insiders sold 37 percent of their holdings in the past six months.

Transportation companies also helped push industrials higher, with FedEx adding 4.3 percent, the most since June 2014. The Dow Jones transportation average closed at a 2016 high, paring its decline this year to 1.2 percent after losing as much as 12 percent.

A group of airline stocks rose 3.7 percent to a six-week high amid the longest rally since September, led today by Delta Air Lines Inc.’s 4.5 percent gain. Carriers climbed even as crude prices rose, amid speculation that higher fuel costs could remove the temptation to increase capacity.

All but one company in the 27-member raw-materials group rose, as Freeport-McMoran climbed to the highest since Dec. 1. Similarly, Alcoa added more than 13 percent, the most in almost seven years.

Chesapeake Energy soared 20 percent, the most in seven years and best Monday among oil and gas producers in the benchmark index. A financial blog said the shale gas driller may be ripe for acquisition. The volatile shares rose for a fifth day, up about 50 percent after losing more than 52 percent over the preceding seven sessions. Newfield Exploration and Marathon Oil gained at least 9.8 percent.

Consumer discretionary companies increased 1.9 percent to a three-week high, led by rallies of more than 4.6 percent for VF and Amazon.com. Ford Motor gained 3.8 percent, the most in five months. Meanwhile, Expedia Inc. slumped 1.6 percent and TripAdvisor Inc. lost 0.5 percent after an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. downgraded the stocks to sell from hold.

Sysco Corp. slumped 4.9 percent, the most since August 2013, on news it agreed to buy food-service distributor Brakes Group from private equity firm Bain Capital in a $3.1 billion deal. Food-maker Kellogg and Whole Foods Market slid at least 2.2 percent.

Lumber Liquidators Holdings sank nearly 20 percent, the biggest drop in six months, after U.S. regulators said some of the retailer’s laminate flooring has a three times greater risk of causing cancer than previously stated.