NEW YORK » Better news on jobs and consumer spending pushed stocks higher today.
The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index jumped, putting the stock market on track for its third advance in as many days. Bond yields fell for a second day, easing worries that a sudden spike in interest rates could hurt the economy.
Consumer spending rose 0.3 percent last month as incomes increased at the fastest pace in three months, the government reported. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 9,000 to 346,000 last week. The report added to evidence that the job market is improving modestly.
The stock market has rallied since Tuesday as investors took advantage of lower prices after a sell-off last week. The plunge came after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the central bank could cut back on its stimulus later this year and possibly end it next year, if the economy continued to improve.
The central bank is buying $85 billion of bonds every month to hold down long-term interest rates and encourage borrowing and spending. Fed’s stimulus has underpinned a stock market rally that started in March 2009 by encouraging investors to put money into risky assets.
"What’s driving that market up is that people are realizing that they are in a ‘win-win’ situation," said Rick Robinson, a regional Chief Investment Officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank. "If you have good economic data that should be good for stocks, if you have poor economic data … that means the Fed will probably have its (stimulus) longer."
The Dow Jones was up 108 points, or 0.7 percent, to 15,017 as of 12:45 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
The S&P 500 index climbed 11 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,614.
Nine of 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 rose, led by financial stocks.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.50 percent from 2.54 percent late Wednesday. The yield climbed as high 2.66 percent on Monday, the highest since August 2011. The rate has surged since May 3, when it touched its low for the year of 1.63 percent. Concern that the Fed is poised to start pulling back on its stimulus prompted investors to sell bonds, pushing the yield higher.
Investors who have added bonds to their portfolios at the expense of stocks should consider reducing their fixed income holdings because yields are likely to rise further, said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at ING Investment Management. Bonds rallied from 2007 to 2012, years that encompassed the financial crisis and the Great Recession. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to a record low of 1.39 percent in July last year.
"For the first time in five years, equities are the safest asset class," Cote said.
Higher yields on Treasury bonds translate into higher borrowing costs on many kinds of loans including home mortgages. Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages surged this week to their highest levels in two years. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said today that the average rate on the 30-year loan jumped to 4.46 percent. That’s up from 3.93 percent last week and the highest since July 2011.
Higher rates have yet to slow the housing market. Homebuilders got a lift from a report today suggesting that the housing recovery remains intact. The number of people who signed contracts to buy U.S. homes jumped in May to the highest level in more than six years.
D.R. Horton rose 48 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $21.29. Lennar rose $1.14 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $37.16.
Investors were also encouraged by comments from a key Fed official. Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley said the central bank would likely keep buying bonds if the economy failed to grow at the pace the Fed was expecting.
"If labor market conditions and the economy’s growth momentum were to be less favorable than in the (Fed’s) outlook_and this is what has happened in recent years_I would expect that the asset purchases would continue at a higher pace for longer," Dudley said at a news conference in New York.
The S&P 500 index is on track to log its best first half of a year in 15 years. The index has gained 13.2 percent so far this year. If it ends the week at its current level, it would mark the best first-half performance since 1998. That year the index rose 17.7 percent in the first six months of the year.
The market will likely become more volatile in the second half of the year as investors assess when the Fed will end its stimulus, said Kate Warne, investment strategist at retail brokerage firm Edward Jones.
"The general outlook for the economy is solid," said Warne. "The trend in stock prices is likely to continue to be higher, even though we’ll see a lot more zig-zagging as everyone debates the timing of the Fed’s next move."
In commodities trading, the price of oil rose $1.41, or 1.5 percent, to $96.90 a barrel. Gold fell $3.40 cents to $1,225.50 an ounce.
In other trading, the Nasdaq composite rose 27 points, or 0.8 percent, to 3,403.
The dollar fell against the euro and the Japanese yen.
Among stocks making big moves:
— ConAgra Foods rose $1.78, or 5.3 percent, to $35.13 after the company posted a quarterly profit that came in a penny above the expectations of Wall Street analysts. The maker of Chef Boyardee, Hebrew National and other packaged foods benefited from acquisitions and price cuts that helped increase sales. —Payroll processor Paychex fell $2.03, or 5.3 percent, to $35.96 after posting earnings that fell short of analysts’ expectations. The company said profit for the three months through May 31 came in roughly flat at 34 cents per share. Analysts had expected earnings of 37 cents a share. — KB Home rose 56 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $20.46, after the homebuilder’s second-quarter loss narrowed. The company continued to deliver more homes at higher prices as the real estate market strengthens.