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S&P 500 scores best day gain in about 9 months, as March kicks off with brighter

U.S. stock-market benchmarks surged Monday, with the S&P 500 booking its best day of gains since June, as a gauge of manufacturing activity showed the economy was picking up steam at the start of the year.

Strategists also attributed the enthusiasm to a cool-down of last week’s rapid rise in bond yields that had unsettled the bullish mood on Wall Street and threatened to offset the easy-money policies implemented by the Federal Reserve.

Read: As rising Treasury yields spook stock investors, March looms like a lion

How did stock benchmarks perform?
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average
    rose 603.14 points, or 2%, to end at 31,535.51, booking its best daily gain since Nov. 9, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

  • The S&P 500
    climbed 90.67 points, or 2.4%, to finish at 3,901.82, its best daily gain since June 5.

  • The Nasdaq Composite
    added 396.48 points, or 3%, closing at 13,588.83, for its best day since Nov. 4.

  • The Russell 2000
    of small capitalization stocks rose 3.4% to end at 2,275.32. It was its sharpest daily percentage gain since Jan. 6.

Last week, the Dow
put in a weekly decline of 1.8%, the S&P 500
fell 2.5%, and the Nasdaq Composite Index
was off 4.9% over the period. For the month, the Dow gained 3.2%, the S&P 500 rose 2.6% in February, and the Nasdaq eked out a gain of 0.9%.

What drove the market?

Stock markets rose sharply to start the week and month, after last week’s rocky trading highlighted the challenges presented by a normalization of interest rates as the economic recovery takes hold.

“We have a very strong market,” Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital, told MarketWatch. “Yields have come back down from last week and of course the stimulus helps,” he said, but also warned that markets should probably brace for benchmark rates to move higher.

“I think we are in for one more trip north,” Cardillo said of 10-year Treasury yields edging about 1.5 basis points lower to 1.444% on Monday. “That from time-to-time can take the wind out of markets.”

But for now, a combination of strong economic data and a stabilization in the bond-market helped to tilt investors’ attention back to brightening prospects for the U.S. economy.

The Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index rose to 60.8% last month from 58.7% in January, matching a two-year high. Any reading above 50% represents an expansion in economic activity.

“Increasingly, it appears that the economy sidestepped a feared hard-landing despite a period of soft consumer spending that contributed to negative conditions for parts of the service sector and a surge in layoffs. If anything, it appears that manufacturers may have benefited from consumer spending habits that favored goods over services in…

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