Signs of healing in manufacturing lift US stocks

The stock market is extending its summer rally as August brings more upbeat economic data.

The stock market is extending its summer rally as August brings more upbeat economic data. Better-than-expected reports on manufacturing and housing sent stocks sharply higher Monday. At one point during the session, the Standard & Poor's 500 index moved past the 1,000 mark for the first time since early November. The Institute for Supply Management said that while manufacturing activity had slowed during July, it did so at the slowest pace in nearly a year. The private trade group said its manufacturing index had risen to a better-than-expected 48.9 from 44.8 in June. A reading above 50 indicates growth. "We're past the worst of it on the manufacturing side, and we could even be getting back to growth by the third quarter of this year," said Jill Evans, co-portfolio manager at Alpine Dynamic Dividend Fund. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported a jump in residential building during June that lifted overall construction spending for the second time in three months. Analysts had expected a 0.5 percent drop. The report provided new evidence that the housing sector may be recovering. Reports showing similar improvements in the industrial sectors in China, Britain and Europe boosted markets overseas and helped lift US stocks in the early going. At midday, the Dow Jones industrials rose 80.87, or 0.9%, to 9,252.48. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 11.40, or 1.2%, to 998.88, after earlier rising as high as 1,001. The Nasdaq composite index rose 19.22, or 1.0%, to 1,997.72. Positive reports from European banks added to the day's upbeat news and eased concerns about the impact that the credit crisis and recession have had on the global banking system. Barclays PLC said its first-half net profit had increased 10% on stronger earnings from its investment-banking division. HSBC Holdings PLC reported a 57% decline in its first-half profit, but results were better than anticipated. Still, losses from bad loans rose at both banks as consumers in the US and Britain had trouble repaying debt. In other signs of investors' growing confidence, safe-haven assets like Treasuries and the US dollar fell, while oil and other commodities prices rose. Stocks surged last month, reigniting a spring rally that had fizzled in June amid growing doubts that the economy was on solid footing. The Dow recorded its best July in 20 years, soaring 725 points, or 8.6%. Stocks regained momentum as an increasing number of economic and corporate earnings reports suggested investors' bets had been well-founded. The reports have shown that companies aren't losing money at the rapid pace they were last fall and earlier this year. Though there are concerns that the aggressive cost-cutting measures businesses have undertaken to boost profits are not sustainable, several upbeat outlooks from companies like Intel Corp. and Caterpillar Inc. suggest business conditions are improving. "At this point through earnings season, patterns have been firmly established," said Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Clover Investment Advisors. "It would take a lot to derail the emerging optimism." Still, the market is keeping a close watch on unemployment levels and consumer spending, as well as rising commodity prices and interest rates that could outpace the economy's recovery. Among the earnings news Monday, health insurer Humana Inc.'s profit rose 34% on higher premiums, and Tyson Foods Inc. said income had soared on solid chicken sales. Marathon Oil Corp.'s profit fell 47% from a year ago, when oil prices were twice as high, but the results still exceeded expectations. Financial stocks climbed following strong profit reports from European banks. Barclays shot up more than 7%, while Bank of America Corp. rose 4.9%.